Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Last night, after running several errands in town, I stopped by one of our local nursing homes, loaded down with chocolate and some other pretty little things.

Over the months, our church has built a unique relationship with the residents there, through adoptions and visitations and caroling.  But I'd never had much of a chance to visit with anyone personally.

Last night changed that.  And now, I know I'm going to stop back there -- often.

After visiting with the two elderly men our family "adopted" and giving them some chocolate, I wandered into the room next door where two women were watching television.  The one lying on the bed by the far window was not coherent, but the one in the wheelchair by the door could string a few faltering words together. 

I crouched down by her chair and listened to stories of her childhood and all the myriad ways our town has changed since she was in school.  (She also gave me detailed directions on how to prepare chitlins, then when she learned I was from Pennsylvania, sniffed that I was a "northern girl" and "that explained it".  She made me smile.)

I asked everyone the same general questions, "How was your Christmas?  Did you do anything special?  Did you have any family come in and visit you?  What do you find to do around here?  Do you like the food?"

Most of the answers were the same, "I slept.  I watched TV.  I don't have any family left. I didn't do anything special.  There's nothing to do around here.  Sometimes the food's good; sometimes it's bad."  My heart cringed for many of them -- their boredom and hopelessness.  It was a dismal place.

Until I met Willy in room 217.  He was sociable and kind and lively.  When I walked into the room he shared with a gentleman who couldn't speak (but who had completed an impressive stack of daunting crossword puzzles) he immediately offered me a chair and asked me how my Christmas was.

I was a little taken off-guard.  "Oh, it was fabulous!  The first white Christmas we've had in a long time.  How was yours?"

"Oh, sweetie, it was great.  I had a good Christmas.  How are you doing?"

Every time I asked a new question, he either turned it right back to me or came up with questions of his own.  When I gave him a big handful of chocolate, he smiled and thanked me profusely and ate several them as I sat there across from him.  I asked him about the teddy bear on his bed and he told me that the bear's name was George and that he loved stuffed animals and if I ever felt like bringing any more, he'd love to have them.

Hanging on the wall over his bed, I saw a picture of a younger man and woman -- the man bearing a close resemblance to him.  "Is that a picture of you?" I asked.  I could tell his vision was poor, but he knew what I meant and smiled right away.  "That's me and my wife.  She passed away in 2003.  Best woman in the world."

"I bet you miss her terribly.  She looks really sweet."

"Oh, she was -- she was.  If she were still alive, I wouldn't be here in this place."

Then I asked him what he found to do all day, confined to one hall.  "Oh, you get to know people," he said.  "So many people and everybody has something to say.  Usually you can just joke around with people and sit in the cafeteria and watch a show or something.  There's always something if you're really looking."

Wow.  There, in that dark, decrepit, smelly room that was barely 10x10 and shared by two people, I saw a glimmer of true joy.  Willy knew something vital: that it is only in truly reaching out to others that your own troubles are diminished.

And then there were the others:

Beulah, who said she would keep the necklace I gave her as a special keepsake and asked if I could bring crossword puzzles the next time I came (she promised to teach me how to become proficient with them since I complained that they always confused me).

Rita, who, despite being in a wheelchair, was impeccably clothed in pale peach (with an added touch of unique jewelry) and deeply concerned about my travels home, alone, through the dark city.  She added a special caution to me, making me promise that I would be safe in Kenya.

Maryanne, with a surprisingly deep voice and a brightly-colored head scarf that coordinated with her purple sweatsuit, who told me how much she loved chocolate and how much it meant to her that I would sit and talk to all of them.

Joy, Patty, Mary, Bobby, and the little man with the big smile who never gave me his name, but informed me that he only ever ate cheese sandwiches....the list could go on.

I left with promises of magazines and story books, crossword puzzles, cookies, and stuffed toys upon my return.  Some of the elderly folks, I know, won't even remember me by next week -- but I won't forget them any time soon.


Katherine said...

That must have been such a blessing. I'm trying to get together a group from church to visit our nursing home but its such a busy season.
Happy New year!

Jenn Joshua said...

Thanks, Katherine! It's such a blessing to be even a small part of their lives. It's amazing how spending time with those less-fortunate can help put things in perspective -- I've learned so much already!

Happy New Year to you too. :-)

Derek said...

That's really cool. Sometimes old people freak me out though.

Justin Scott said...

What a blessing. I'm glad you gave old folks a little publicity here. They're easily forgotten these days.