“Genevieve! Hi Genevieve!” I raise my voice in the gentlest way I know how, sounding more like a preschooler’s game show host rather than a fire alarm. This 93-year-old jovial delight peeks at me through a half-closed eye, as if she’s playing a game. The lamp resting on the doily covered table beside her bed warms the room, and this game, to me, feels like the entrance to heaven, because she welcomes me.
No staff try to weasel out of bringing Genevieve to breakfast. Sure, whoever gets the duty has to try three or four times, gentling rolling her by her shoulder back and forth while she is on her side in bed, before she flashes the face from the painting The Scream. A faint squeak emits from her “O” shaped lips before her shock softens a little, and she sticks a stiff arm over her bedside table fishing for glasses.
“Oh I’m going,” she says, “I’m going,” with such enthusiasm it sounds like she is prepping for a pre-game sports newscast. Amazingly, I’m trailing behind her as she scoots with walker in hand out the door and around the corner.
“Is she trying to lose me?” I chuckle to myself. Matching her steps, and noticing the lifeless, cheap paintings on the wall whizzing by at our clip, I ask her if she wants to sing.
“Oh yes, “she says, “Oh yes.”
“Should I start?” I ask. And before finish the “t” from my last word, I hear Croatian lyrics bursting from her with such tenacity it seems she’s aside a bar with her cronies “living it up” rather than speeding toward this nursing home cafeteria.
Some of the other residents at Golden Acres are challenging to love. The staff bond together with united purpose to calmly repeat dinner options and locate the remote, adjust glasses, and assemble the foot petals on wheelchairs. Every morning, and evening, every nap time, snack time, and newspaper time. And twice for the grouchy residents because it wasn’t done right. There is an understanding among the staff to cultivate patience, accuracy in surveillance of the obstacles in a room to prevent falls, and keen insight to identify the obstacles within an aged mind that block trust.
Robin is no different, a staff member who has been at Golden Acers longer than the rest of us even though she’s young, especially by nursing home standards. She’s eaten more birthday cake at meetings than would be healthy to acknowledge. All that frosting sticks to the insides of something medically identified in anatomy books. But I’m convinced it sweetens our tongues midday to speak kindness to the residents, and try one more time to be that safe face they can remember.
At 10 am, God is not forgotten by the thirty ( 67 to 98-year-olds) gathered in this cafeteria post-breakfast, listening to a volunteer pastor speak about eternity. God’s presence is shared in the closeness between the eyes of a visiting son and his grateful, frail mother who’s helping him turn the pages of his hymnal. As I help my resident, I remember the challenge from my pastor last Sunday, to:
“Ask God for something so specific, it seems ridiculous for Him to respond, and wait for the answer, believing He will.”
I think of Robin, and how months ago I had felt God nudge me to pray for her. Not knowing more than her name and face, I prayed asking God to lift her up in ways only He knew she needed. Through my foggy Monday brain, I pray:
“Please give me evidence that you are moving in Robin’s life.”
Later, while speed walking to the kitchen to get a hot chocolate packet for Mr. Jones who decided to dine for lunch in his room, heaven responds.
“I got a message from God today,” I heard Robin jokingly say to a fellow nurse.
I stop breathing for a few seconds, allowing my mouth to hang open and my eyes to widen. I feel cradled as if surrounded by thick, sweet, warm jello supporting my weight on all sides, even the weight of my mind. As a wormhole has been open, I see clearly that we’re always surrounded carpet to ceiling, wall-to-wall with this thick warmth. I feel safe, and held, heard, and loved.
5 You hem me in--behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Psalm 139: 5-6 (NIV)
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