As we gear up for Laity Sunday in worship this week, I want to step back and let my friend Dustin tell a story. I met Dustin at CITY Improv in 2001, and he is one of the funniest and wisest people I know. He works in a senior living and nursing facility at present, and shared this story on facebook, which I share with you with his permission:
When I started working at the home, there was a man that I took a liking to. He would sit quietly, and watch people. He’s so quiet, the first couple of weeks I thought he was mute. Until one day, I was trying to take some trash from him, and he said, “Do you want the trash I’m holding? I can throw it away, I don’t think you want to touch it.”
I jumped back like a toy had just came to life.
I said, “I didn’t know you could talk?”
He said, “I have for as long as I can remember. ”
He reminded me of my Grandpa. From then on, he had a wise/witty comment for everything. He was so content to be by himself, that he was forgotten after meals. Hours would go by, there he is, sitting at the table where he had breakfast. I made my coworkers aware that he needed to be brought down after meals, and ever since, he’s been down in the lobby with everyone else after meals.
The only other time he was brought down, was when his wife came to visit. His wife was a woman that everyone dreaded. Nothing was done right, when it came to the care of her husband. If his wife was there, it meant 30 extra minutes of work, that no one had time for. Of course, if it was done in the first place, but in her case, it wouldn’t matter. She liked to complain, but more importantly she liked to be heard.
On his 83rd birthday, she wanted us to throw a special party for her husband. We have almost 200 residents, we can’t throw a party for every birthday. She insisted, bought all the food, decorations, the only problem was, no one really knew who this guy was…including me. I was the one working that day, I was in charge of decorating his cake, and inviting his “friends. ” I pretty much said, “Sing Happy Birthday to the guy with the balloons on his chair, and get free cake.”
His wife thanked me, and told me how bad his dementia had gotten. She told me how she lived in assisted living, but she couldn’t take care of him anymore. She told me he was a former pastor, and he never prepared a single sermon. He’d speak from the heart, and he had the Bible memorized. She made this quiet, content man, sound like Superman.
It was clear she was trying to hold on, and that he had been her whole world. After talking to her, I saw changes in him. I noticed how much life, her presence added to his world. She was clearly in charge, but he loved it. Most importantly, his memory would improve. It’s like on all those days that he never said a word, he was saving it up, for when she came to visit. They talked for hours, they’d sneak kisses, they’d fall asleep leaning on each other. They were in their 80s, but they still acted like they were teens in their first month of dating.
I became very close to them. She, especially, treated me like family. He knows my face, knows he likes me, and is comfortable talking to me, without knowing my name, or remembering anything we’ve talked about in the past.
Sunday became our day. She’d order lunch, I’d pick it up. If there was food left over she’d give it to me. She told me their entire life story over the last 5 months. Every Sunday she’d tell me stories, and I’d have to try to get away, so I could get back to work. She’d come 4 to 5 times a week, it was the only thing she looked forward to.
The week after Christmas, I brought him down to meet his wife in the lobby. As she reached over to give him a hug and kiss, he asked, “Who is this?”
My heart sank, and her face reflected the pain she was feeling. She started to cry, and she said there was no reason for her to come anymore, if he didn’t recognize her. I told her I’d tell the doctor, and that he could just have an infection, and not to give up. I told her he needs her. I told her I’d keep an eye on him, and call her if he bounced back.
The next few days he was really sick. So I knew there was a chance that when he got better, he would start remembering.
A few days later, I called his wife, and told her someone was asking where she’s been. I handed the phone to him, he said, “Hello sweetheart, where have you been?”
I could tell her reaction by the smile, and shade of red that he turned as he started to laugh. Within an hour she was brought over and they were back to normal.
This past Sunday, I brought him down, and sat him next to where his wife sits for church. I noticed she didn’t show up, but thought nothing of it, the snow kept a lot of people away.
Yesterday, I learned that she passed on Saturday. My heart broke again for this guy, because she was his light. He’s been told of her passing, and has already forgotten several times.
If there is one reason I was lead to this place, I believe it was to meet this couple. They were truly in love, and personified “in sickness and health.”
Some of the CNAs might be breathing easy, knowing they don’t have to deal with her anymore, but I’m happy that I got to know Ruth, and proud to call her a friend. I will keep my promise to her, and make sure her husband gets the care he needs.
If that’s not ministry, I’m not sure what is. Ministry is for everyone. I look forward to seeing you Sunday.