Once "rather uncomfortable around the elderly," the author found her heart opening with each visit to the nursing home.
When I was pregnant with my third child, our parish started a Visiting Ministry for the homebound and those residing in nursing homes within our parish boundaries. When I saw it on our stewardship form I knew this would be a great activity for a mom of young children to do together with her family. I enthusiastically signed us up, only to get terribly cold feet after attending the first meeting. Wait a minute… you want this pregnant introvert who is actually rather uncomfortable around the elderly to take her young crazy monkeys to a place full of elderly strangers and meet with someone one-on-one? And talk to them?! Um, check please, I must have shown up at the wrong meeting, thanks.
It took some serious convincing from my dear husband and the ministry head (not to mention a good amount of time) for me to actually follow through with our first visit. We went, and it wasn’t so bad. Oh, you can be certain it put me out of my comfort zone, but our first visitee was a quiet woman with a bit of dementia who had the sweetest expression of contented amusement every time she saw the kids… even when they were jumping off her footstool or running away with her walker. Who knew these antics, that tended to drive me crazy on a daily basis, could bring someone such joy?
We continued with these visits at the care facility less than a mile from our home, not as often as we could have, but consistently enough, until one day we showed up and “Fran” was no longer there.
Due to HIPAA laws and the fact that we were just some random strangers who showed up once in awhile, the care home couldn’t tell me anything. Did she die? (I don’t think that was the case.) Did she move? Where did she go? I realized how attached we had gotten, and it was a good lesson (for me and the kids) on stepping outside ourselves and realizing we weren’t doing this for us. Sure, it brought me lots of joy (once the terror subsided), but in the end, this ministry was for the benefit of others, not myself. Not my kids. Our purpose was written right there in the Works of Mercy … to share Christ with the lonely and homebound, whose lives, once so full with homes and farms, jobs, cars and abundant family, had now been reduced to a 12-by-12 room.
Over the years, we visited two more dear women at the same facility, both of whom just recently passed away (we never found out what happened to Fran). With more frequent visits came the opportunity to get to know their extended families a bit better. “Elizabeth” suffered from progressing dementia, but the smile that lit her face each time she saw the kids, and the kind phone calls from her daughter to give me updates and let me know when she moved to a new facility, let me know that we were right where God wanted us.
“Marge” was sharp as a tack, and for the better part of a year we enjoyed our routine Tuesday visits, where there was always an after school snack waiting for my kids, along with stickers and other little trinkets. We chatted and played and went on tours with Marge leading the way in her motorized scooter (which my boys thought was the coolest thing ever). We even came for an afternoon of crafting, as Marge was an avid scrapbooker, and the kids got to cut and color and glue to their hearts’ content, in an environment where Mom wasn’t even nagging them about the paper scraps and a sticky mess! We were fortunate to get to know Marge’s son and were saddened but at peace last spring to hear she had been taken to the hospital and passed on a few weeks later.
In this month of November, as the Year of Mercy comes to a close, we now have two more souls for whom we pray, uniting ever closer the Church Militant with the Church Suffering, and one day by the grace of God we hope to all share the glory of the Church Triumphant in Heaven together, where old and young, sick and well have all passed away and “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4).
Now, as irony (or maybe more accurately “providence”) would have it, this mom of three not quite so young children with a fourth child on the way, who was once terrified at the thought of interacting on a regular basis with the elderly, is the coordinator of this growing ministry at our parish. God, in his infinite mercy and goodness, not only allowed us to share His mercy with others, but has used it to soften my own heart and lead me to further share in his works of Mercy.