In the beginning I was filled with doubt. After all, I've never really been what you'd call a people person. It's not that I'm uncaring, mind you. Just...independent, I guess. At any rate, I felt very out-of-place standing in the hallway of a nursing home.
Anna—the volunteer coordinator—stood in the doorway of the first patient's room. She had just finished the general orientation and now motioned the group in. “Now, don't forget what I've told you.”
There wasn't much danger of that. Anna had been efficient and thorough in her presentation. Maybe a little too thorough. She didn't sugar-coat the challenges of helping out in the Alzheimer's and dementia center. Of course, she also talked about the rewards—what a blessing volunteer support was to the patients, their families and the overworked staff. But I barely noticed that. My mind locked in on her warnings.
I trailed along at the back of the group hoping to go unnoticed as, one by one, each would-be volunteer stepped into Rose's room. I peeked around the others to get a glimpse of her. From her bed, she followed with her eyes as each person passed through her door, but she remained quiet.
That is, until she saw me.
“Aaugh, aaaaaa, iiieeeee!”
Rose's disease had advanced to the point where she could no longer speak, but that didn't mean she couldn't express herself. For whatever reason, she keyed in on me and stretched her arms in my direction as she babbled in excitement. Anna tried to calm her, but she wouldn't be quieted.
A nurse arrived to deal with Rose, and Anna led the group back out into the hall. She assured everyone that this was not an unusual occurrence, but I'll have to admit, the experience left me searching for the nearest exit.
...Until the Lord reminded me that He had led me there.
Are you sure this is where you want me to help out, Lord? Couldn't you give me something easier, like...oh, I don't know, brain surgery, maybe?
The assurance I felt at that moment was the only thing that kept me from heading for the hills that day.
I'm glad I didn't. Because, now, there's not a hint of a doubt. I know I'm exactly where He wants me to be.
* * *
“Aren't you going to go get some lunch?” Anna asked as we passed one another in the hall one day after I'd been at the center for a few months.
It was lunch time, but instead of heading to get the free meal the center provides, I went in the opposite direction...inexplicably drawn to Rose's room.
Earlier that day I'd stopped by and found her sleeping. Now, the conviction to visit her again was overwhelming.
Although the day was bright, one of the nursing assistants had drawn the blinds in the room, making the light soft and dim. Without making a sound...scarcely daring to breathe, I approached the bed. The almost imperceptible rise and fall of the blanket which covered her frail frame let me know that I was not too late.
There was a chair there, but I sat beside Rose, on the edge of her bed. Though I wasn't sure if it was for her or for me, I felt the need to touch her.
I'm not sure how long I sat with her before one of the nurses came into the room.
“Oh! I didn't know you were in here. Is she...?” The nurse checked Rose's vital signs. “I'll call her daughter. Maybe she can get here in time.”
She did. Though it was only moments later the blanket covering her mother stilled.
I was no longer needed there, so stood to leave. Just before I jumped down, Rose's daughter reached out and rubbed my ears. “Thank you. Thank you for being here, Oscar.”
I've received many such thanks. I even received an award for my work. But that doesn't matter to me. It's my privilege to bring a little joy and comfort to those I've come to love, in the twilight of their lives.
That...and knowing I'm doing what my Creator planned for me is reward enough.
* * *
Author's note: This story is based on two amazing felines. The first—Oscar—has been in the news for his abilities. He seems to know when a patient in the Rhode Island nursing home in which he resides is nearing the end of life, and he stays with them in their final hours.
The second lives in a nursing home in my town. Although not as well known as Oscar, he has similar abilities and stayed with my mother in the twilight of her life. Although Mom did not pass away until after she'd been taken to the hospital, the cat stayed with her the night she had her final stroke.
Interestingly, although he usually laid on the bed of someone who was nearing death, with her he stayed on the empty bed next to hers.
--Mom only liked cats at a distance.
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