I had planned my blog to be chronological - a meandering account of memories from my childhood to the present. But I feel compelled to interrupt the flow with a tangent that is currently a feature in my life. I have just returned from visiting an elderly relative in the nursing home. We'll call him K.
I didn't want to go to visit him. I don't know why. He loves me and loves to see me. He is lucid enough to know when I am there and who I am. But somehow, I find it all very difficult. I think his fragile and failing state reminds me of the final weeks I had with my Dad.
When I visit K, I can never tell how long the visit will be. He can ask me to leave in 5 minutes because he's had a bad night's sleep or he can talk and talk for hours, intermittently asking me to do little errands for him, sometimes taking the whole day. Today, one of my sons is unwell and we have booked a doctor's appointment. As I drove to the nursing home, I felt smug in my plan of having an 'out' in case he was in a rambling mood.
When I arrived, I signed in on the visitor's book, a little proud of myself that my name was listed there for all to see. In the visitor's book, you sign your name, the time & date and the name of the person you're visiting. It doesn't have any footnote stating … NB: Juliette Poulter was here, but she didn't really want to be here, had many other things she'd prefer to do, had an excuse in place to avoid staying for long and even fleetingly contemplated walking away after signing the visitor's book, without actually visiting her elderly relative. No, there's not that much room to write in the columns of the visitor's book and I am quietly thankful. So my name and time of arrival just sat there, benignly, in black and white.
I walked down the corridor and thought to myself that if he's asleep, I'll just let him rest and be on my way. (The visitor's book will attest to my being here!) But he was not asleep. He was awake and alert and overjoyed to see me.
“Hello, Juliette. So good of you to come and see me. And so early in the day. My clock says 9 o'clock! I am your first priority. What a blessing from God.”
I tried to play down his gratitude and mumbled something about being on the way home from dropping the boys off at school. Then, I remembered my back up plan. “Well," I said, "I dropped one boy off at school, but I have one sick at home. I'm taking him to the doctor in a little while.”
There, I thought, he always is interested in my kids and my family. He will have that in his mind now and I can remind him of that when the conversation lulls, or he is on a never-ending string of points.
“Which boy is sick?” He asked.
“The middle one,” I said.
“Then let's pray for him.”
I sat, humbled. I couldn't stand in the face of such self-less compassion. This fragile and broken old man spontaneously and fervently praying for his young, robust, a little un-well great-great-grandnephew. He prayed for some time, asking God to heal Son #2 and then moved on to thanking God for my arrival, proclaiming what an answer to prayer I was. He thanked God for the healing he had experienced in his own body. He was so frail from advanced cancer, he could barely lift his arms, but I found out later that he was pain-free (without medication) for the first time in months. He praised God that I was there at breakfast time so that I could help him eat and He continued to pray with tears of joy about the goodness and faithfulness of the God who loved him, personally.
When he said, “Amen”, he looked at me and we both smiled.
“You are my blessing from God.” He told me. I cried.
He probably thought I was tearfully responding to his joyous prayer, but of course, I was ashamed. K has been nothing but kind, uplifting and generous to me throughout my entire life. I am thankful that, even though I started out with a reluctant heart, my presence was used to bless a man who deserves it.
I fed him his yoghurt and he had a few errands for me, some requests for the nurses and a bit of tidying up in the room. I always feel obscenely healthy and loud and large in his presence. I seem to bump the bed, and talk too quickly and too loudly. Where K takes 20 tiny, shuffling steps to the bathroom, I can be there in 2 strides, clunking my shoes on the tiles and knocking the bed tray as I go. He never complains and is always grateful for my clumsy help.
Time passed quickly without my noticing, then he said. “Well, you better be off. Your boy needs you. Thank you for coming”.