Just Us

In our anti-grace world, a little love and kindness go a long way.

by Kristina M. Santos

On a summer day I visit my mother-in-law in the nursing home. I sit beside her on the bed, holding the vanilla milkshake I’ve brought while she takes small sips. At ninety-eight years old, she’s confined to bed and needs help eating.

Her roommate Zelma is in her wheelchair by the window, the remnants of lunch on a tray on her bedside table. The other roommate, Lela, sleeps fitfully in her bed. Now and then, she calls, “Look out . . . look out!”

“Let’s go”

Zelma pulls against her restraints, trying to get up. Her long, gray hair falls forward, hiding her face that is still pretty with its pale, ivory skin and striking violet-blue eyes. She is in constant motion — tugging, bending, reaching for the bedside table.

Zelma is sometimes confused, sometimes not. She tends to mumble to herself. One of her favorite sayings is “Let’s go, let’s go.” She will repeat this over and over in an urgent voice.

Once, in the middle of this familiar litany, I heard her pause, and then in a clear, thoughtful voice, she said, “Please, Lord, help us go.”

Stay

Now my mother-in-law looks at Zelma and says, “What’s she doing? Trying to get out? She makes me nervous.”

I go over to sit beside Zelma. “You need anything?” I ask. “You OK?”

She looks up, stops struggling. A sweet smile lights up her face. “No, I’m OK. But stay here awhile.”

So I stay. I tell her about the hot weather and how nice the air conditioner in the room feels. I compliment her slippers: leather-looking moccasins. She is pleased. Clearly, she likes them.

Hard life

A nurse’s aide comes into the room — a friendly, gentle young woman. She tells Zelma she needs to check her vital signs. She helps her sit up straight, but then Zelma resists and refuses to give her arm for the blood pressure cuff.

“I’ll come back later,” the aide says as she lifts the lunch tray and carries it away.

I say in a soothing voice, “That’s OK, Zelma . . . that’s OK.”

She snaps back, “No, it’s not OK. It’s not OK.”

And suddenly it hits me too. It’s true. All the troubles in life — Zelma’s, my mother-in-law’s, mine, the world’s troubles. A sea of troubles all around us. I say, “You’re right, Zelma. It’s not OK. Life is sad, hard. Definitely not OK.”

Sharing worries

I return to my mother-in-law’s bedside. We are quiet together. She drinks more milkshake. Then she asks me about some of my worries, which are some of hers too: We’re awaiting results of my husband’s biopsy for prostate cancer, and my son is going through a divorce. And then she says she will worry with me, which is a comfort.

A few minutes later, Zelma looks up, motions to me, and says, “Come here.”

I sit beside her again. She puts her hands on the bedside table in front of her and tells me, “Put your hands here. Place all your frustrations here.”

I lift my hands next to hers, lift my frustrations there, too, alongside remnants of squashed string beans and a chunk of canned peach. Tears come to my eyes.

Memories

Zelma starts talking in a friendly, dreamy voice: “We took a drive to the mountains yesterday. It was so pretty. The flowers were so pretty. The pine trees were so green.”

I say, “Oh, did you go with your husband?” (The nurse told me he died some years ago. Maybe Zelma is remembering something they used to do together.) She nods and smiles. “Yes, but we didn’t hike.”

Gentle peace

A gentle, whispery peace passes through me. I feel as if I am there — in the mountains — and the flowers and the green trees are around me.

And now, the room is quiet. Zelma is smiling. My mother-in-law’s eyes are closed, and she appears to be dozing. Lela is serenely asleep now.

And we are all peaceful together. We have created a safe space, a holy place, a deep-breathing space.

Sharing the load

Here is an answer to Zelma’s prayer, to all of our prayers: Surely the Lord does help us go all along the way of our lives. Prayers are answered in our love and care for one another.

Life may be sad; it may be difficult. But we are here for each other. This is what we can always do, even with our own personal weaknesses and our worries that weigh us down so much. We can make do with what we have: a bedside table, a kind voice, a listening ear, our hands, our hearts, our tears.

Love one another

It doesn’t seem like much . . . just us, here together, in this small, humble way. And yet, here and now, it is everything. All of our faith, hope, and love is here.

Jesus tells us “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12 NKJV).

And so we do . . . and so we do.