December 12th, 2011 at 4:00 pm
It was a cold day in December, yet, for my three sons, my wife and I, there was warmth felt among us that could only be experienced through sharing the love of Christ. We had delivered Christmas gifts to Ms. Gonzales.* She was well into her 80s, had many obvious physical limitations and moved around her modest home slowly, depending on a walker for assistance.
We had brought gifts for her that included a blanket, slippers, hygiene items and food for her little dog. We all knew this just might be the only Christmas gifts Ms. Gonzales would receive that holiday season. Yet what would happen next would be a memory that would leave a lasting impression on all of us.
Even though her voice was frail and her English was broken, she asked that we wait for just a moment. At a snail’s pace, she left the room only to return several minutes later with four beautiful handmade, crocheted bookmarks. They were her gifts to our family for making her Christmas so special. Several years have passed since that special experience, but we will always be reminded of the blessings Ms. Gonzales and our family shared that early December morning.
So often we forget the elderly, this people group that were once active but because of age and/or physical limitations are confined to their homes or specialized care facilities. They represent a significant portion of the population and their numbers and needs are steadily growing.
Ministering to the elderly has always been a part of my life. It was around 11 years of age that I began to learn that the life of an older person was sometimes not as happy as the term “golden years” might suggest. I recall making frequent trips to my grandmother’s house and noticing how much more we would go to see her than she would come to see us.
I remembered a few months later how one of my grandmother’s best friends came to live with her and how things seemed so different watching this private person share her home with someone else after 16 or 17 years spent on her own. Then there was the time my grandmother came to live with our family. Her new residence in our home was something I had always hoped for, yet, for the time that she spent with us, it became very real to me that the woman I had longed to come and live with us forever, was slowly slipping away. Her condition offered only a resemblance of the person who truly was my grandmother.
After three years of taking care of her in our family’s home, even though we hated to admit it, we all knew that her dementia demanded more care than we could provide. It was in the nursing home where God really began to teach me and many times I did not even realize or understand His instruction. All I really did understand is that I wanted my grandmother to go on living, not just waking up in the morning, having a pulse or taking a breath, but knowing others were around her offering companionship, activity and support.
One of my favorite activities at the nursing home was taking strolls throughout the building following mealtime. Whether it was taking my grandmother by the arm and walking her up and down the hallways or pushing her wheelchair from one end of the facility to the other, we would always kindle many relationships along the way.
One of the residents we often would spend time with was a woman, who because of her condition could no longer speak. Even though we almost always would find her slumped in her wheelchair, it never ceased to amaze me how even the slightest bit of attention from a kind word to a gentle pat on her back was enough to bring to her face the slightest hint of a smile. If there was ever the example of happiness shown through the eyes, she would exhibit this emotion to a tee. It was moments like this one, God helped me to realize there is an incredible ministry opportunity with our elderly.
The elderly, especially those who are confined to their home or a nursing facility, need to be remembered. They need someone willing to offer a helping hand or provide the simplest of items for their basic needs. They need companionship to know someone is thinking about them and is genuinely interested in their life if only for a few moments at a time. And, they need to know they can still give of themselves to brighten the lives of others.
None of these needs are difficult to meet for any of us. It just takes a little time and a heart to share God’s love.
*not her real name
By Corky Holland, minster to senior adults and of pastoral care at First Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas.