At this festive time of year, it is good to remember those who will probably never again personally experience “city sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style.”
Individuals who are fortunate enough not to have close relatives in nursing homes may feel that they have “dodged a bullet” and can unashamedly concentrate on “me me me”; but visiting my mother-in-law at the nursing home over the last two years has humbled me and opened my eyes to opportunities for compassion.
Even if you don’t have blood relatives or in-laws who are shut-ins, you owe it to yourself to check out the patient directory at the nearest facility. You may find the sixth-grade teacher who helped you choose your mission in life, the kindly neighbor who gave you shelter those times you accidentally locked yourself out of your house, the coach who taught you the value of persistence, the beloved aunt of your childhood sweetheart...
I realize that nursing homes are outside the comfort zone of many of us (“The smells! The moaning! The bodies that would no longer make the cover of ‘GQ’ or ‘Sports Illustrated’!”); but most of those patients went outside their own comfort zones many times leaving familiar surroundings to find a good job, traveling halfway around the world to fight for freedom, raising stepchildren who clung to memories of their “real” father/mother, marching for civil rights, etc.
The Christ child we celebrate at Christmas certainly came outside his comfort zone. He left the right hand of God, endured the aches and sorrows of the Human Condition and was mocked and crucified. He set a high standard for us.
We cheat ourselves when we let our hectic schedules push nursing home visits way down our priority list. We rush home to watch a History Channel documentary when we COULD learn about the Great Depression or the Korean War or the Apollo program from someone who was there. We make a mad dash to the bookstore to grab the latest romance novel instead of listening to a real live senior citizen reminisce about the person who was the light of their life for 50 years.
Opportunities abound. True, some patients are staying for only six weeks of therapy after a knee replacement; but words of encouragement can speed their healing. Some patients are in the latter stages of dementia, but a smile or a kind word does not go unnoticed by our Father in heaven. Nurses and other staffers can always use a heartfelt “thank you.”
Certainly, the patients who suffer from glaucoma or osteoporosis or confinement to a wheelchair but who remain mentally alert are in need of reassurance, to handle the monotony, loneliness and challenges to their dignity. Even patients who have doting relatives will appreciate an extra visit.
Giving the gift of time to someone who can’t repay you in material things can be so much more rewarding than the obligatory ritual of handing a $20 Taco Bell gift card to the co-worker whom you know will reciprocate with a $20 Olive Garden gift card.
Nothing about this column is intended to limit your kindness to the holiday season. Trees and ornaments may be packed away, but the emotional needs remain.
I hope the holidays start you on a year-round program of tending to the vulnerable. It is a two-way gift that keeps on giving.
Danny welcomes email responses at email@example.com and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”