Of the seniors assembled in the nursing home dining room for the church service, she appeared the loneliest. The others did not speak to her and the workers moved her wheelchair aside without warning when she was in their way. She seemed a forgotten island in the midst of a sea of activity.
Pastor Ryan gave the benediction and invited us to meet the residents. While the others fanned out to clasp withered hands, I decided to visit this lonely woman.
“Excuse me,” one of the attendants said. “Do you speak Finnish?”
I shook my head, and the worker smiled sympathetically.
“Does that matter?” I asked.
“It does if you want to talk to Helmi.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “In the past few months, Helmi's been retreating into her childhood. She grew up speaking Finnish and only used English at school. I’m afraid in her old age she's forgotten how to speak English.”
“How do you...”
“We don’t communicate with her very well,” the attendant answered. “We’ve been hoping a volunteer who knows Finnish would come and be with Helmi a little while each week.”
“But what about her family?”
The worker shook her head. “Her husband died a few years ago and most of her family lives in the Old Country. She doesn't have children.”
With one more sad smile, the worker moved toward a patient who was having difficulty maneuvering her walker around a dining table. I knelt beside Helmi’s wheelchair and took her hand in mine. She turned vacant eyes to me.
There had to be some way to reach this poor woman. I knew she couldn’t control her mind’s retreat to the past anymore than she could control the daylight as it dimmed to night. But I knew Someone who controlled all things.
Lord, I thought as I stroked her hand, Your love is universal. Help her to understand.
I gazed directly into her eyes and introduced myself. “My name is Darla. Are you Helmi?”
Her watery blue eyes widened at the sound of her name. Then she squinted at me. She gripped my hand and began to speak. I had a year of German language class in high school and I listened carefully but none of her speech sounded familiar.
I searched my mind for something I could say that she might recognize.
“Helmi, do you know Jesus?” I asked. Her grip tightened.
Encouraged, I smiled and repeated my question.
She spoke rapidly, repeating the words Haluta autaa we* several times. At a loss for understanding, I nodded my head in agreement.
Finally, she fell silent and sighed. Her gaze dropped downward to her pants. Removing her hand from mine she began to pick at imaginary lint.
I tried several times to talk to her about Jesus but each time she said the same words and sighed.
Just about ready to admit defeat, I stopped a nurse on her way to dispense meds to another patient.
“Nurse,” I said, “Helmi needs something and I'm not sure what she's saying.”
“I'll see to her when I'm done with the others,” she answered. Before turning away, she gave me a look that indicated she wouldn't be back very soon.
For several minutes I knelt beside Helmi, feeling like one of Job's friends unable to grasp the depth of her need.
Pastor Ryan and the others prepared to leave. In desperation, I grasped both of Helmi's hands and prayed, “Dear Father, I don't know what's bothering this dear lady, but You do. I just ask that You would take care of Helmi's need. Please send someone who can be a companion to her. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Tears were welling up in her eyes as I stood. “Haluta auttaa we,” she murmured before her eyes went blank again. I didn't know what else to do for her so I put on my jacket to leave.
“Oh, Helmi, did you wet yourself again?” the returning nurse scolded and tossed a towel onto a puddle under the wheelchair. “What are we going to do with you? Let's go get cleaned up.”
As the nurse pushed the wheelchair past me, I knew that should I live to that age, I would, like Helmi, slowly lose control over my mind and body. But God, Who is ultimately in control, has compassion on widow and orphan alike. I would return to visit with Helmi because God's love is a universal language.
*Finnish for please help me
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