Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Bouquet for Jenny

The shrill voice from the other side of the curtain had come abruptly, unexpectedly.  We were visiting with our friend whose husband of sixty some years had recently been laid to rest.  "Would you shut your big mouths," the voice practically screamed.   "I'm trying to get some sleep over here!"  I looked at the clock.  It was five in the afternoon. 

I have been in nursing homes many times over the years and this was the first time I felt genuinely uncomfortable, but especially for our friend.  She is soft-spoken and gentle,  confrontation probably doesn't come naturally.  But she spoke up, addressing the voice that had come from the other side of the curtain.  "It's five in the afternoon," she retorted.  "You shouldn't be sleeping right now anyways.  Nighttime is for that." And then she added,  "And besides, this is my room too."

But the voice continued on, throwing in a few expletives as well, determined to let us know that she was not at all happy with her situation nor that her roommate had noisy visitors.  It was nearing suppertime, time for us to go.  Besides, all the enjoyment had suddenly gone out of our visit.  I saw the tiny hunched figure of the woman with her back to us as we left the room. 

Eventually, upon the insistence of her family,  our sweet friend would be moved to another room, one with a nice view out her window and a much more pleasant roomie.  But I couldn't stop thinking about the angry little woman and what had prompted the contempt that had poured out of her mouth.  Upon inquiring a bit about her, I learned that she was difficult to everyone, staff as well as residents, and that she didn't get many visitors. 

"I think we're supposed to visit Jenny next time we're over there," I told Larry. "And I think I'm supposed to take her a little something, a gift of some kind."  But how to just show up at random and give a present to someone we didn't even know without an explanation, especially one with the temperament of this particular resident,  it made me a bit nervous.  I'm not particularly fond of being on the receiving end of someone's vitriol.   
It was a couple weeks later on a Friday we decided to return.  It had been a full day, we'd run several errands in the morning and that afternoon Larry had dropped me off at the mall while he did a committal service in a nearby cemetery.   I still didn't have a gift and even after walking through the various stores I came up with nothing.  Maybe this hadn't been such a great idea after all.

Larry looked tired when he returned a couple of hours later.  "How about we not go today," I suggested.  What would another few days hurt.  I was tired too, ready to go home.  Or maybe I was just wanting to put the whole thing off just a bit longer.  He looked relieved and nodded his head.  Yes, the nursing home could wait.  

It was at that very moment the daughter of our nursing home friend suddenly appeared, calling out a greeting as she approached us.  We chatted for a moment, and then I asked about Jenny. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "I saw her today and it's her birthday!" I looked at Larry.  I didn't have to say a word.  We both knew that we had another stop to make before we headed home. This chance meeting in the mall was not by chance at all. It had been orchestrated  by the One who was reminding us that we had an appointment to keep.   
Party City sits conveniently on the other side of the highway from the mall.  It only took a few minutes to pick out something that was especially fitting for a birthday.  A short time later we were outside her door peering in at the tiny woman who had verbally blasted us only a few weeks before.  "Jenny, I don't know if you remember us," I began, "but we heard it's your birthday."  She nodded her head, "I remember you."  Then we sang to her and presented her with a bouquet of  balloons that we had brought to recognize her on the most special of days, her birthday. 

We have been back a few times since then, and we always make it a point to check in on her.  When I asked if we could pray for her one day, surprisingly she didn't hesitate.  "I forget,"  she said.  "Pray I won't forget."   I bowed my head and asked God to help her remember the things that she so desired to not forget.  I looked up as she made the sign of the cross.  Well, at least I knew she wasn't an atheist!  Before I left I leaned over and kissed her gently on the forehead.

I was there again this week, and naturally, I checked in on Jenny.  It was the day after Mother's Day, and we had brought her a rose and a small gift from the church.  She doesn't have a new roommate yet, I suspect that bed will stay empty until there is absolutely no other in the entire place.  After all, she is known to be difficult.  And unlike many of the other residents who prefer to sit in the public areas where they can be close to others, she is usually in bed.  She obviously prefers to be alone.

"Jenny," I roused her out of her sleep. "I haven't been here for awhile.  Do you know who I am?"   She looked at us from her pillow and shook her head.  "We brought you the balloons for your birthday."  She shook her head again, "I don't remember."  I wished her a Happy Mother's Day, gave her the gift and and found a vase for the flower.  Larry had by now left the room and was heading towards the lobby, but I lingered a moment longer.  "You asked me to pray for you Jenny, that you wouldn't forget things."  She didn't say anything.  "It must be scary," I continued, "to not remember."  She slowly nodded.  "I'm still praying for you,  I just want you to know that."  She looked up at me once more.  "Thank you."  Her voice was soft, nothing like the first time I had heard it.  "That's very nice of you."  I reached over and lightly touched her face before I left. 

I'll get back in a couple of weeks and check in on her again.  I don't know that she'll ever know who I am, if she'll remember me from one visit to the next.  That's not all that important.  I just know that God has laid a cranky little lady on my heart to pray for and to extend kindness to in whatever way I can.

Oh, and by the way.  On that day we took Jenny her bouquet, she said something before we left.    Her voice was soft and I just barely caught the words, "God is good to me."  And then she smiled.