Tuesday, October 16, 2012

One Hour at Death's Door

The lunchroom with its labyrinth of tables always seems to have the same number of people scattered around.  It always looks like less, but each time, I do a head count of twenty to twenty-five.  Never more.

Most sit alone, many sleep, their hunched over forms quiet at a round table large enough to hold a company of eight.  Yet, even those who sit two by two are alone, physically side by side though never speaking to one another.   It's as if this is not the place to make friends since most all are just passing through.

I have been going to the nursing home for several years now, one hour on the third Tuesday of every month.  One thing I have noticed is how the faces are rarely the same. While the turnover rate in such a facility has something to do with the random attendance, the truth is that most of them didn't come for a church service.

Some are waiting for coffee.  Some are waiting for their rooms to be cleaned so they can go back down the hall.  Others haven't moved since morning exercise, scheduled right before our half hour church service.

The woman who once grabbed my son Wyatt's stuffed Tigger and took off with it down the hall isn't there. Instead, a burly man sits at the far back table in front of the coffee pot.  He can't be older than my own father, a fact confirmed by the black military cap pulled down low on his brow, the word "Vietnam" embroidered in gold across the front.  Centered among the colored bars and stripes that all hold some unknown meaning is a pewter pin of a long barreled rifle.

I try to strike up a conversation, tell him that my father flew planes over there, but he isn't interested.  Although it sounds awkward, I feel compelled to speak the words, "Thank you for your service to our country."

He mumbles a thanks, and I move on.

Up front are a couple of the "regulars," those I would miss if they weren't there. 

One sports a new silver brace on her pinky finger--broken.  Last year, her arm was broken when she fell in the shower.  Today, she wears the same white silken muumuu dress as last time, the pretty one with the cardinal red paisley pattern. I give her a hug and smile, make some comment about her not being able to crochet until it heals.

She asks the twins for a hug, and they smile shyly as always before wrapping their arms around her girth.  It's like having another grandma.  She loves my small children, covets the hugs and energy found in such compact forms. 

Then, one of the wheelchair-bound men waves me over.  He tells me the same story every time I visit, as it's a story I could ever forget, the one about him having three holes in his heart when he was born.  He knows my face by now and holds his arm out, uncontrolled, until I grasp it for a firm handshake.

He is one who always wears a soiled dishcloth bib, whose peppery mustache and chin are almost always coated with remnants of his last meal of his ever-present frozen Coke

As the pastor brings the message, I watch this man spoon the oatmeal to his mouth.  He holds the spoon carefully above the bowl, patiently waiting for the brown-cinnamon goo to ooze off both sides.  Only then does he carefully lift it to his mouth.  He tries valiantly.  But with wobbly hands, he is no marksman.

Two seats by the piano are empty, those ladies likely down the hall at the Catholic service where another small group gathers to pray the rosary each morning at ten.  Of all the people I've encountered, they're the only two I've never seen separately.  One in a steel gray bun high on her head, the other with silver waves cropped above her shoulders--each visit, they claim they didn't know we were coming, and ask when we're coming back. Always the same question.  Always the same answer.

I wonder about the man who always came dressed in well-worn black slacks and a button-down long sleeve white shirt a couple sizes too small for his now-expanded waistline.  He always requested the same hymn.  I played it once.

While my children don't remember, I think of Maw Maw being in this service last November, just once as she passed through the home on her way out of this life. Even then, she didn't really remember me, although she played it off quite well.

Sometimes, I wonder if my actions make any difference.  My piano playing isn't anything worth noting unless you want to count the number of wrong notes.  My pastor is the one who does the important part by sharing the Word of God. All I do is give a few hugs, shake a few hands, offer a few words of encouragement and concern, and send my children around the room to "show Jesus' love." 

It's thirty days until my next visit....that's a long time in a place like this.  

1 comment:

  1. I worked in a nursing home for 3 months while the social worker took maternity leave. It is definately a place where serving is hard. Many residents are just hard to face at times, but if I was in a situation where I could not leave a building every new face would be important. Thank you for serving.