Hello dear moms and other readers. Happy New Year! I wonder if any of your resolutions for 2009 involve performing service to others? I’m sure most of you are busy, especially if you are young moms – or working moms at any age. So let me not issue a ration of guilt if you can’t find the time to get involved with others. But I’d like to share on the topic of visiting elders – especially those in nursing homes and those with dementia. To do this – I will share about three patients I used to visit. (Note: I had no skills or training). Finally, I’ll share about an Alzheimer patient that one of the listeners to Catholic Moments told me about. In this column, I’ll share the main reason behind this (perhaps) unusual topic and request.

For just under two years, I used to visit three people in a nursing home – an elder care facility in Florida. None of them were relatives of mine and I had contacted the administrator and told her I was with the Catholic Church and that I’d like to visit with anyone who might be lonely or not have family nearby. It was as easy as that. I did fill out some paperwork – but it wasn’t much. Things may be somewhat different in your location or state – but don’t let that dent your openness to this topic.

I will call the three patients that I used to visit Ben, Katherine and Rose. Among many long-time-ago memories, Ben had good recall for baseball teams of many years before. His short term memory was gone. So what would happen is that I could visit with Ben and have much the same conversation from visit to visit – asking him questions such as, "Did you ever see the Detroit Tigers play ball? Do you remember where it was that you saw them? Who was the pitcher?" Did you ever see a no-hitter? Etc.

Ben hardly ever asked me questions – he just enjoyed sharing about such matters. I’m not a sports nut or a big fan – but I didn’t need to be because Ben was. All I had to do was to ask some questions related to sports. I would visit him for perhaps a half hour or more… sometimes also pushing his wheelchair around for a change of scenery or outside for fresh air. Ben liked this.

Next was Katherine. There is a sweet – tender story to share with you about Katherine. She had little short term memory and, as with Ben – I could have similar conversations with ‘Kate’ each time I came for a visit. What was tender was this: Katherine was 94 years of age – and on many visits – she would talk to me about introducing me to her dad – so he and I could talk about Kate and me getting married. I hope you don’t think I’m making fun of this lady’s situation – not at all. But it did make me smile inside that in this situation – she would see me as a suitor. (My dear wife Dee didn’t mind this one bit.J)

Finally – about Rose. Rose was like an accomplished actress. She didn’t know and wouldn’t remember me – but she would act as if she did. She would happily and loudly greet me when I came to her door… "Well, hi there," she’d say. "How are you? I was wondering if you were coming." But Rose never had a clue to my identity. Yet, we’d find things to talk about… she was always going to go home… she was just waiting for someone to come pick her up. But no one was coming to take her home – this was her home because she couldn’t function on the outside. This wasn’t sad or a downer because Rose was very happy with my visits.

Three people – my visit time with them would range from one to three hours. There was hardly anyone ever there to see them – so most of the time I was the only visitor. In the context of their condition – I believe each one enjoyed our visits and time together. Sometimes, I went to the dining room if it happened to be meal time… and I helped feed them (particularly Katherine) if needed.

Someone reading this might be saddened by such a column. Why do it you might ask? What difference does it make? My answer is the simple word dignity. With our visits and our love – we are able to extend to these confined people one thing that only visitors can give them. The word is dignity… treating these men and women as if they still matter. Because in God’s plan, they still do matter.

Some time back, a friend of Catholic Moments sent me an email. She told of seeing this sort of disease ravage her husband’s mother. It started at a young age of about 55. The downward spiral lasted for five years. Even though this woman eventually lost all cognition, the family and especially her son – they were able to visit her, spending time with her, holding her hand, stroking her hair. They were giving her dignity and love. From my visits to nursing facilities – many overworked, underpaid staff members can’t give much of either of these to the residents.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to say words to the effect: We don’t have to do big, wonderful deeds – simply small things done with love. Visiting these seniors is an ideal example of that saying.

Now that I’m a deacon – I’m not doing this sort of ministry with the frequency that I did before.

However, I do head our parish Respect Life Program. Visiting the sick, the elderly, the confined – and showing them the dignity inherent in each human being – that’s a part of respect for life… whether the recipient knows or understands or not.

Finally – my wife used to regularly take our gentle miniature Schnauzer (Holly) in to visit such folks. You’d be surprised at how most elders would brighten up and enjoy these visits. Seniors also love visits with smaller children. So maybe, mom you’d consider taking your young ones in to sit on the lap of an aging lady – it’ll warm the cockles of your heart.

If you haven’t put together an action plan for 2009 – would you consider contacting a local senior residence facility and seeing if they would like to have a caring visit once in a while? Ask if perhaps they’ll assign one or two seniors for you to regularly visit. If you do this – I’d love to hear from you.

Deacon Tom

Copyright 2009 Deacon Tom Fox