A Helping Hand

In the nursing home

How many times in the last year have you visited a nursing home?

"But I don't know anyone in a nursing home," you may say in defence. Perhaps not, but that shouldn't matter. What matters is that we put our Christian faith into practice. We should take time out to remember those forgotten people, people who are spending their last days in a nursing home, unable any longer to care for themselves. We should remind ourselves that we too will be old some day, some of us sooner than others.

Besides having worked in nursing homes, I have visited them many times. What always strikes me is the way the residents reach out for you, wordlessly begging you to take their hands, to talk to them, to treat them like they were special. You don't know them. They don't know you. But what you are is a person who has taken the time out to visit. It doesn't matter to the residents that you didn't especially come to visit them. What matters to them is that you are there.

I remember, when we were looking after my uncle Bill a few years ago, that weekly he would want us to take him to visit his old friends in the nursing home that he had been in before we came onto the scene. At his home, where he now was since we had come to care for him, he had a beautiful flower garden. He would always have us pick a bouquet of flowers--it was usually roses--and he would hobble into the hallway of the residence, the bouquet held tightly in one hand, while with his other hand he would steady himself with his cane. A wide smile on his face, he would proceed down the hall, stopping at each wheel chair, or lounge chair. He would carefully pick out one flower to hand to each person. He had a few male friends there, but each lady he came to, he would plant a wet kiss on her cheek and place a rose in her lap. This he did until he had given out every last flower.

What impressed me then, and the memory still lingers, is the sunshine that he brought into the place. He brightened the nursing home... He remembered how lonely it could be. Obviously it was no reflection on the staff. The look of pleasure he had on his face at seeing them again, was testimony enough to their good care. And they welcomed Uncle Bill's visit just as much as the residents did.

The first time we took him, after all his roses were gone, we thought his visit was over, but it wasn't. Turning as if to go, he retraced his steps back to one of his bed-ridden friends, and sat down for a visit. But the visit had no words. He just sat there, while his friend held out her hand to him. She knew he understood. Although she couldn't really say the words, Uncle Bill knew that what she would like to have said were spoken only by her thoughts:

"Come sit with me, friend, and hold my hand.
Please talk to me for awhile.
Though I can't say real words, I comprehend.
I may babble, but I can smile.

Some folks just stare: they think I'm bizarre.
But you don't. You call me "Dear."
My mind's all mixed up, but I know who you are.
I love it when you are near.

The others don't understand why I weep.
But you know. I am sure you do.
Please stay with me, friend, until I sleep.
I'm not embarrassed with you.

You knew me, friend, when I could talk.
You listened to all that I said.
You were good to me then. We loved to walk.
So sit with me now, by my bed."

When at last his friend was asleep, Uncle Bill stood up. It was time to go home. But he would be back next week, and he'd do the same thing all over again.

- Helen Dowd -

[ by Helen Dowd Copyright © 2003, (helendowd@shaw.ca) -- {used with permission} ]


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