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Conyers Presbyterian service focuses on Alzheimer's patient caretakers

Conyers Presbyterian Church member Lillian Hodges demonstrates how people who attend the upcoming Service of Hope can light a small candle as a symbol of hope in dealing with their struggles.

Conyers Presbyterian Church member Lillian Hodges demonstrates how people who attend the upcoming Service of Hope can light a small candle as a symbol of hope in dealing with their struggles.

Though Christmastime is a joyous season of being with friends and family and remembering years gone by, a sadness can envelope those who have friends and family who cannot remember those bygone years, or in many cases may not even be able to remember the names of their closest loved ones.

Such is the case for those suffering with Alzheimer's disease. While the person is still physically here, it can be difficult for family, friends and caregivers to make it through the holiday season.

"This is not a happy time for a lot of people," said Conyers Presbyterian Pastor Tom Sparks.

Many churches, such as Conyers Presbyterian, offer special services this time of year to help people going through difficult times of illness, death, loss of a job or loved one and grief. This will be the third year the Conyers church has offered its Service of Hope and everyone is invited to attend Wednesday, Dec. 19, at 7 p.m.

Sparks said the service is designed to offer hope and comfort to everyone who has experienced any kind of grief, loss or problems. At this year's service, a special focus will be on Alzheimer's disease and dementia and the people, families and caregivers who deal with it each day.

"Everybody recognizes there are people at Christmas who are quietly sad about a loss or struggle," Sparks said. "It's important to lift that up in a special service. Some churches call it the Longest Night service."

By making time for such ministries as the upcoming Service of Hope, the pastor said it offers those who are grieving or experiencing problems a time to mediate and pray and find comfort and hope for the future.

"We all recognize there are mountain tops and valleys of life," he said.

Alzheimer's is a deep valley for many families who have loved ones with the disease, as well as for the people who take care of those who are suffering.

"Christmas is such a wonderful time for memories, which makes it especially difficult for those who have lost their memories," Sparks said. "(This service is) just to acknowledge that sense of loneliness even when you're around those you love."

The pastor said the trend of Americans living longer (with 80-plus as the fastest growing age group) has both a positive and a negative side. The good is that the life span is greater, but so are the problems with Alzheimer's and dementia.

Conyers Presbyterian is offering its Service of Hope as a quiet time of meditative worship for anyone who is suffering or who has experienced loss or grief. The service is an opportunity for those who have experienced difficulties to prepare their hearts for a hopeful future.

The pastor said the service will last about 30 to 45 minutes and will include a time for contemplation, silent prayers and a time to light a candle as a symbol of hope for the struggles one is going through. There will also be some traditional Christmas hymns, a reading of the Scriptures and a message by Sparks titled, "Care and Comfort at Christmas."

As Conyers Presbyterian has offered this special service for the past three years, the numbers of those attending have increased each year.

"I remember several people telling me they realized after the service they hadn't finished grieving for their loss," Sparks said. "It gives them a chance to come to terms with their feelings and sorrow and a time to reflect quietly."

Conyers Presbyterian is located at 911 N. Main St. in Conyers.

Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Loganville. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.