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A (mostly) nursing home day

One of the realities and responsibilities of my pastoral ministry is the cycle of visits to members who can’t get out to worship with us on Sundays. Once a month I endeavor to get to those we call “shut-in” or “homebound” to bring them Holy Communion. Some of them are in nursing homes, others in assisted living, and still others live at home. Sometimes I spread them out over the month, but today I decided I would get to all my nursing home members, plus one at home receiving nursing care.

They’re all spread out over two counties, so I started with the furthest away, about a thirty-minute drive from church. “J” has been in a care facility for about eight months now. I try to get there just as she is finishing her lunch and just before her husband arrives to spend the afternoon with her. She is eighty-six. He is ninety. I typically find her in the common room and sit and chat with her and other at her table. They are always curious to learn about me and share with me where they are from. But today, I found “J” in her room, dozing, with a full lunch tray in front of her. When I said her name, she woke and greeted me, glanced at her lunch and asked, “What is that?” I identified the broccoli and au gratin potatoes, but I wasn’t really sure what kind of meat was smothered in gravy. Anyway, she didn’t look that hungry. We chatted briefly about her youngest daughter who had just gotten married. Two nurses walked in and said that they had just called the ambulance to take “J” to the hospital for some tests and treatment. I knew my window of opportunity would be brief, so I gave her communion and prayed with her. Just in time. The EMTs arrived to transport her. Upon returning to my car, I let her husband know I had been there, where they were taking her, and reminded him he could call if he needed anything.

Next up was “M,” who had been in another care facility about twenty minutes away. As I arrived, she had just returned from getting a haircut. She put away some towels from the chair at the side of her bed and we visited for a while. She’s been there since last summer. Today we talked a bit about her love for the Orlando Disney attractions. That’s why she and her husband moved to Florida years ago. Sadly, he died soon after, but she and her family made frequent trips to Disneyworld. She can’t quite understand why her daughter left her there, a conversation we have each time I come to visit. She wouldn’t be safe alone, so I am thankful for the care she receives there. “M” shares that it’s been a busy day, and I sense she’s a little tired, so I read some scripture to her, give her communion and pray with her.

Visit number three was the home of “K,” who hadn’t gotten out much for about two years, since her husband died. If not for her two sons who lived there with her, she would have had to be in a nursing care center long ago. Their caregiving responsibilities had exponentially increased three months ago when “K” fell and injured her shoulder and wrists. About a year ago, since she had some issues using the phone, we agreed that I would just stop by once a month to visit. One of her sons greeted me at the door when I arrived, just as “K” was getting up from an early afternoon nap. She is always so glad to see me. After a few minutes of chatting about how she was doing, the conversation transitioned to her late husband and many other family members she missed but remembered. Her recollection of family history amazes me. Details of names, dates, occupations, locations and conversations poured out as “K” wove together a complex monologue. I know she was simply glad to have someone to talk to.

On to my final visit of the day, “C,” who has been in her care location for about 18 months. Her memory has waned, but she always knows me and makes me laugh. However, I know she will forget my visit just moments after I leave, so I write the date on my business card her bulletin board. Her husband, who comes each morning to see her, sees the communion cup and asks about our visit, which she never remembers. Today, her door was closed and I could hear lots of activity from the room, so I sat and waited in the hallway. After about ten minutes, two caregivers came out and it was my turn. I shared with her much about seasonal worshipers and visitors to our church. She just smiles and listens. After communion we pray and I head home.

Every three or four weeks, I step into their “homes” and worlds with the precious gifts of God’s grace. Today’s rounds took about four hours to complete. I probably spent more time driving than actually interacting, but I’ve learned to never underestimate the value of a visit like that. There is indeed power in the Word and the Sacrament to touch the heart of someone who will most likely see the Lord face to face sooner than I will. Each one reminds me of the blessing of caring for the least of these his brothers and sisters.

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