By Barb Arland-Fye
Two different times last week, staffers at the nursing home where my friend lives, about a 35-minute drive away, suggested that I visit her earlier rather than later in the day. So, I missed two opportunities to visit because an early evening visit fit my schedule better. Once again, God nudged me to reflect on my priorities. Late Saturday morning I drove to the nursing home, despite having been alerted by a receptionist that my friend might be sleepy.
During a visit with my friend a couple of weeks earlier (in the evening, of course), she told me that she had fallen and broken her hip just days before. Her frustration and discouragement about her situation left me feeling discouraged for her. My friend held a rosary in her hand that evening, fingering the beads, but then placed the rosary around her neck like a necklace. I asked if she wanted to pray the rosary. We started, but she decided she might be too tired to continue.
As we said our goodbyes, I touched her hand and arm, and that felt reassuring. However, the experience may have contributed to my procrastination to make a return visit. I tend to internalize other people’s sufferings, which leads to avoidance sometimes. Pope Francis writes in his book, “Let Us Dream” (reflecting on the COVID-19 crisis) “we can’t serve others unless we let their reality speak to us. To go there, you have to open your eyes and let the suffering around you touch you, so that you hear the Spirit of God speaking to you from the margins” (p. 15).
When I entered her room last Saturday, near lunchtime, my friend had fallen asleep. I stood beside her bed in silence, simply watching and hoping she would wake up. An instructor in a course on pastoral theology once advised our class of the importance of being present to someone who is ill, no words are necessary.
A nurse’s aide walked into the room and gently woke my friend to ask if she wanted lunch. The nurse’s aide pulled over a chair for me to sit down beside my friend’s bed. In a voice no louder than a whisper, my friend told me, apologetically, that she did not have much to say.
I told her that was OK, because she is my friend, and I love her and God wanted me to visit her that day. She raised a hand toward one eye, as if to wipe away a tear. On a wall next to her bed is a somewhat abstract painting of a town in Germany where she taught school when she was in her 20s. She has shared wonderful stories with me about her adventures in Europe and the painting serves as a wonderful reminder of our earlier conversations, I told her.
She and her late husband, whom she met later in life, took me under their wing when I was a young reporter living in their community. I recalled fond memories with them. My friend fell back to sleep as I spoke. I sat quietly for another 5 or 10 minutes, then rose from my chair and put it back in its place. I returned to my friend’s bedside and gently stroked her hand while saying good-bye. Her eyes opened and she smiled. “I really appreciate it,” she whispered, referring to my visit. She closed her eyes again. God blessed me with an opportunity to enter a sacred space, with the touch of friendship.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)