“I need help.” A lady in a wheelchair spotted me as I walked into the nursing home.
After two years of visiting my mother in this facility, I couldn’t ignore a resident seeking help. Usually, I ended up alerting the staff to what the person needed, but sometimes the person just wanted someone to see them. I stopped. “Hi. What do you need?”
“I need to get out of here. Where’s the door?”
A common request since many of the residents suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia. I leaned down closer to her level. “You don’t want to leave. It’s nice and warm in here, and they take good care of you.”
The woman stiffened and raised her voice. “No, they don’t. They don’t take care of me at all.”
The evidence to the contrary sat in the chair before me: clean clothes, hair groomed, nails trim and clean. The staff excels in caring for the elderly, a major consideration when we chose where to place Mom for her care. “Sure they do. They take care of everyone. I’m Barbara. What’s your name?”
She told me her name and continued to complain and insist she was poorly treated. I glanced down the hall, aware my time with Mom evaporated while I spoke to this woman, but her agitation broke my heart. When she ran out of steam, I said the one thing I had found that usually calmed upset residents down, “Would you like me to pray for you? Right now?”
“No.” She frowned at me and got angrier. “God doesn’t listen.”
My mind scrambled to catch up. Not the response I expected. “Sure He does. He’s helped me many times.”
She jutted her chin out and leveled a disbelieving stare at me. “How?’
OK. Didn’t expect that one. Normally, I give hope by explaining how God got me through tough situations, made me stronger, and placed me to help others in similar crises. But what do you say to a woman who retains little understanding of who she is, who will never leave the nursing home, who will die there? Still scrambling, I flew by the seat of my pants, hoping for divine inspiration. “I have gone through many things. Each one He got me through and later put me in the lives of others to help them through it.”
“What kinds of things?”
Oh boy. She was making me work for this one. “Divorce, disease, family problems.”
She continued to frown, so I patted her arm and told her, “I’m here to see my mother. I know you don’t want me to pray for you, but I’m going to tonight.”
She reached out and grabbed me (not always a good thing, but I let her.) “Pray now.”
I squatted down and looked up at her. “OK. What do you want me to pray about?”
And I did. While I prayed, I kept one eye open (something I’ve learned to do when surrounded with wheelchair-bound seniors who manage to get around better than you expect). I prayed for peace and comfort, for the staff to give her good care, for feelings of security, and to ease any pains. A CNA stood a few feet a way gesturing and mouthing something to me. I couldn’t read her lips, so I kept praying.
When I finished, the woman said, “How long?”
“How long before He answers?”
This was definitely turning out to be the most challenging interaction with a resident that I’d had in quite a while. I patted her arm. “God answers when He’s ready. I’ll talk to you soon, but I need to go see my mother.”
She didn’t let go of my hand. “Stay with me.”
“I need to feed her, but I’ll come back and see you before I leave. OK?”
She nodded. “You’ll come back?” When I agreed, she released me and I continued on down the hall.
Later the CNA who tried to get my attention told me, “That woman hits.” She showed me a bad scratch on her arm. “She did this to me today. I was afraid you would get hurt.”
I smiled. “I guess God protected me since I prayed for her.”
I get invited to speak to people about my faith often. I offer hope, but this hurting soul caught me off guard. She didn’t fit into the picture of my typical listener. What do you say to someone confused by dementia at the end of their life? Yes, God will heal them when they pass from this life into the next, but not everyone in a nursing home wants to talk about or hear about death. Many of them aren’t aware of their age, anymore. The mental age of the person you’re talking to might be five, not eighty-five. I knew, in her agitation, the wrong words could make the situation worse, not better.
This lady taught me a lesson. I had not considered this population when I started sharing my faith, so this encounter forced me to rely on the Spirit to guide my words. If you don’t believe I received help from the Spirit, then tell me why a very agitated woman who was known by all of the staff for lashing out and hitting, allowed me to draw close to her without injury?
Next time I meet an unexpected recipient, I hope I’ll be prepared, but if not, I know where to get guidance.
When have you found the message of your faith challenged? What did you do?