FrontLine • September/October 2008
She was a beloved relative. Her frequent visits brought laughter and magic into the house. What joy she brought! Then when age and weariness crept into the house, she stopped coming. She had only come when it was pleasant for her to come. The old folks looked longingly for her. They’d say, “Maybe today.” But she never came again. As a young teen who adored her I couldn’t understand it. How could one be a friend one day and no longer a part of a life the next?
Now, in maturity, I understand it. She was afraid. She didn’t want to be reminded of her mortality. I can understand that, but I cannot condone it.
At the wedding altar we vow to be faithful “in sickness and in health.” The vows of friendship are intangible but nevertheless real.
Are we friends only in health? What about your homebound or institutionalized friend? If you could observe the eagerness when a voice or a step is heard in the hall. The effort to look and see if someone is coming to the door. If you could observe the huge difference in the person when someone comes to visit and bring news of their daily life. The weary person sleeping on the bed comes alive, smiles, jokes, feels loved and cared for.
If we are honest with ourselves we must admit that we don’t visit because it is not pleasant for us. But we should visit because it is pleasant for them.
We are uncomfortable if their speech shows that they are not the same people they once were. Who does that hurt? The elderly may ramble about the past. Listen and learn. They may ramble about dreams they’ve had but can’t sort from reality. Agree with them. Tell them it sounds like an exciting adventure. It may make no sense at all. So what! If you are a friend, you remain a friend. A step in the hall and they look. Could it be a visitor to enliven the routine days? Could someone care enough to stop and talk and make them feel a part of the world they served and loved?
I know one senior citizen who worked for fifty years in a segment of a large organization. Now that the person is institutionalized, of all the scores of colleagues only three have come to visit—and they have stopped too. Fifty years of service and instantly forgotten. How sad. What a reproach to those friends.
Let’s look at ourselves.
“I can’t stand it to see old friends who have changed.”
“I’m terrified. I know it can happen to me.”
I admire your honesty. Just ponder the Golden Rule and perhaps you will change your mind. The Lord’s admonition will place a new light on it.
“I’m busy. I mean to stop by. Has it been a year already?”
You schedule everything else. Schedule visits to friends who are ill. Make up your mind that “I will visit once a week or month” and put it in your date book. You don’t have to have huge segments of time. A brief visit will be treasured. But he will want you to do more than stick your head in the door (though that is appreciated and better than nothing). He will want you to sit down and visit.
“I don’t know what to say.”
Talk about your everyday life. Tell what you did that day. Talk about your family and church. Tell what is going on in his former workplace. Read a chapter in the Bible to him. Pray with her. The time will fly by.
“I hate the smell. She has a spot of food on her dress. He wears a catheter. He’s not the same.”
This may be inelegant, but so what? Who or what is important, your sensibilities or your friend?
This could be your ministry. I promise you, without qualification, you will be blessed beyond your wildest imaginings. Put yourself in the other’s shoes. What if you were bedridden? What if you got confused and you knew it? What if you were lonely to see beloved faces and hear familiar voices? What if you’d like to have someone talk to you about something other than medical problems? They want to hear about you and your family and children and what is going on at church.
The Lord tells us not to fear. Pray about it. He will take away the fear of seeing an old friend who is not well. In fact, when you leave I’ll guarantee that you will have been blessed.
Maybe they will be confused, maybe they won’t remember, maybe they’ll get mixed up—but they will know you are there, they will smile and come to life, they’ll know you care. Please, please don’t stop coming.
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).
The author has asked to remain anonymous.
(Originally published in FrontLine • September/October 2008. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)