Apr 11, 2014

A Story About Trust and Compassionate Care

When we work directly with people who are living with dementia, we are often surprised by the gifts that they share with us; gifts of wisdom, compassion and joy.

Tom and Karen Brenner
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Often, these gifts come to us as real stories from people’s lives; moments from a long life.

One of the best story tellers we have met in this dementia work was a pastor. He told us some remarkable stories from his life on a submarine in WWII and from his life as a pastor.

This is a story that he told us that we want to share with you during this holy season of Easter and Passover. No matter what your religion (even if you are a person of no faith) this story has much to teach us about trust and hope.


My father-in-law was a dairy farmer. He spent his entire working life on a farm in upstate New York building up a first class herd of Holsteins. He not only worked at improving the breed of milking cows, he conscientiously cared for them.

The barn was kept clean, the stalls had fresh straw, and the animals were well fed.

The cows all had individual names.

Dad used their names soothingly as he worked with them, brushing their hides or doing the milking twice a day. He talked to them constantly whenever he worked around them.

One time when I was spending a few days at the farm with my family I was awakened in the middle of the night by a loud noise outside the window.

Someone or something was crashing around in the garden, bumping over the bean poles and kicking against the fence. I knew in an instant what was happening. One of the cows had gotten out of the barnyard into the garden.

She was now away from the rest of the herd in an unfamiliar place and unable to find her way back. You could hear her thrashing around, panic-stricken in the unfamiliar surroundings.

At that time my father-in-law was getting older and I thought that I would help him by saving him the trouble of getting up and dressed in the middle of the night.

I called into his bedroom that I would get the cow and take her back to the barn.

“That’s probably old Jewell,” he called back. “She’s always getting into trouble. You may not be able to handle her!”

In a moment I was dressed and into the garden. But when I tried to approach the panic-stricken animal I only frightened her. She began to “beller” and thrash around more.

When I touched her, she tossed her head and reared off in a different direction.

Try as I might, I could not get that cow to go back through the gate and into the barnyard. She did not know me and my presence added to her confusion.

Suddenly Dad arrived. His walk and manner were slow and deliberate as always.

Then his strong baritone voice pierced the night. “Jewell,” he called.

Immediately, and as if by magic, the old cow stopped her thrashing around and stood still.

Even in the darkness, Dad had known which cow it was. She, in turn, had immediately recognized his voice when he called her name.

I stood in amazement and watched my father-in-law go up to the large animal, thump her a few love taps, and then walk at her side through the gate and back to the rest of the herd where she once again was safe.

It was not until some weeks later when I read this lovely (and loving) passage in John’s Gospel that the “aha” hit me.

Jesus said of himself, “I am the Good Shepherd: I know my own my own know me.”

Just as my father-in-law had known each of those who were in his care, and they knew him, Jesus is reminding us that he knows our name.

And when we are lost, or all is darkness around us, and we are thrashing about in confusion and panic, the Good Shepherd calls our name.

When he calls us we will recognize his voice and our hearts will be quieted.

And just as my kindly Dad walked up to Jewell and led her safely back home, so will the Good Shepherd hear us in our panic and will quiet our fears.

In his tender and compassionate care, he will save us and lead us lovingly to safety. Surely the Pslamist knew that peace when he sang,

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me.” (Psalm 23:4).

Tom and Karen Brenner are Montessori Gerontologists, researchers, consultants, trainers and writers dedicated to working for culture change in the field of aging. They are the authors of  You Say Goodbye and We Say Hello: The Montessori Method for Positive Dementia Care. Learn more about Tom and Karen at Brenner Pathways

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