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More from Chaplain Taylor.

Known as a Friend

He was a fine old man in his eighties who had suffered a stroke. Unfortunately his ability to remember much in detail about current happenings was woefully lacking. He always had a pleasant smile and a toothless grin that made one overlook his deficiencies.

I saw him almost every day for a year. I would speak to him, always calling him by title and name, -- "Good morning Mr. Jackson" -- hoping to assure him that someone still considered him to be a man with dignity. He would grin back, then ask, "Do I know you?"

My answer was always the same: "Sure. I am Lloyd Taylor. I am a good friend of your favorite nephew, Jim."

"Oh sure," he would reply, "that Jim is a real good boy." Jim was fifty-five and a grandfather. Then we would chat briefly about whatever he happened to be thinking about that day.

Over several months there was a glimmer of recognition when I would enter his room. He never called me by name, though. Occasionally he would say to a family member, "Jim's preacher came to see me today."

A series of mini-strokes robbed him of his few remaining abilities. Even though he became bedfast and very weary he still seemed to remember me -- not by name but as a friend. The day he died I stood by his bedside with his wife. He seemed to be comatose. Suddenly he opened his eyes very wide and stared at me. Then he closed them again and died peacefully. In his last moments did he find comfort in seeing a friend whose name he could not remember standing there with him? I certainly hope so.

What to Believe

I once had a friend, Mrs. Harris, who was a skilled first grade teacher. She knew that little children often tell fascinating and revealing things about their home life that are often a mixture of fancy and fact. She also knew that children report strange things about school when they go home. The first of every school year, Mrs. Harris sent a neatly printed card which read: "Dear Parent or Parents: I am your child's first grade teacher. I would like to make a deal with you. If you will believe only half what your child tells you about school I will believe only half what he tells me about your home."

The nursing home is another social situation where fact and fiction are frequently mixed. One morning about 9 o'clock I stopped by to see Mrs. Carter, just past 90 years old. She was crying. Between sobs she said: "The morning is almost over and they have not fed me any breakfast yet. I am so hungry."

I had just come from the nursing station where the charge nurse and three aides were smiling as they discussed Mrs. Carter. "She is on one of her hunger streaks again," said the nurse. "She has already had two breakfast trays of toast, oatmeal, bacon and coffee. We have just sent Kathy to get her another one from the kitchen."

Shortly after Mrs. Carter had unburdened herself to me Kathy did come with another tray. "Well it is about time," said Mrs. Carter. "I am starving to death." Kathy looked at me and winked. Fact and fantasy had intertwined in Mrs. Carter's mind.

I know there have been some notorious abuses of and by nursing home patients. I do know, too, that the course of wisdom is found in the understanding expressed by the first grade teacher -- "you believe half and I will believe half."

What Can I Do For You Today?

Virgil had led a long and full life. He and his wife had raised a large family. It had not been easy for Virgil for he had a very limited education. He was always a hard worker and fiercely independent, disdaining any offers of assistance, public or private.

Virgil always had time for others, too, and would always respond when anyone was in need of help. He worked at his church, too. If he saw that a chair was in need of repair he would take it home after church and bring it the next Sunday as good as new. When people came to church on Sunday and found that a classroom had been freshly painted they knew that Virgil had done it.

His wife became bedfast about the time he was to retire. He cared for her lovingly the last three years of her life. When she died he told his family that he would prefer to live alone and take care of his wife's cat and her dog. He did this for about six or eight years.

One day they found Virgil on his divan, victim of a light stroke. He recuperated some in the hospital but his independence was gone. Some said his rationality was gone, too.

I visited with him the first day he came to the nursing home. He was sitting in a wheel chair, tightly held in place by a posey belt. He frowned when I came in. I introduced myself as a minister and chaplain. His face broke into a wide grin as he said, "Am I glad to see you! What can I do for you today?"

He showed me in his weakness the same gracious spirit that had sustained him until now, though his aging body could no longer respond.

He died not long after that. I could just imagine him approaching the pearly gates and hearing a voice saying, "Virgil, I'm Saint Peter." And Virgil surely must have said to him, "Am I glad to see you, St. Peter! What can I do for you today?"

Lloyd A. Taylor is a retired nursing home chaplain now residing in Edmond, Oklahoma.
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Title Annotation:experiences with nursing home residents
Author:Taylor, Lloyd A.
Publication:Nursing Homes
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:966
Previous Article:Activities: from a chaplain's notebook.
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