Last night I spent a few hours with Miriam, a razor sharp ninety-one year old Brit with perfect hearing. Her hospice chart didn’t offer much information. She lived with her son, but this week she was moving into assisted living. Her body was giving way to age and a two recent falls had rendered her virtually bed bound.
An effective hospice worker bee has their antenna up and in tune. Discerning the scene and picking up cues lead to good ministry.
The first thing I noticed on Miriam’s door was a large sign: “Keep open at all times!” Some patients post signs indicating open / closed door preferences but this one seemed emphatic. Secondly, the room was lit up—in fact, no light was neglected. And the TV was tuned to a channel that scrolled the weather forecast.
I introduced myself to Miriam and asked if I could spend a little time with her reading scripture, praying the Psalms and chatting. She accepted.
A good hospice worker bee listens, listens some more, then asks questions and allows God to bring about understanding. Counseling and exhorting are scarce in my role—and since I tend to be a know-it-all, I’ve had to train myself to clam up and trust God.
Miriam recounted her share of storms, including eight miscarriages. Then “the only man I’ve ever loved,” she said—the young soldier who brought her to America from England—left her for a younger woman after 45 years of marriage. She forgave him.
Then she unloaded the heaviness on her heart: As a teen during the Second World War, Miriam and her family endured countless bombings and air raids in the East End of London. At 16 years old she emerged from her neighborhood air raid shelter to find the family house leveled.
Storms she said… the kind with lightening and thunder brought her back to the war. Sirens too. She could still smell the gunpowder and feel the chaos of those moments. Seventy-fire years later and she still had a bad case of PTSD.
Miriam informed me that storms were predicted for tonight, but Friday and Saturday it was supposed to be particularly bad. And now that she was immobile the fear came with a vengeance. She couldn’t hide, much less move. With the door closed and the lights off she was back in an air raid shelter.
Adding to her fear, Saturday she was leaving her son and his partner’s nest after 15 years into the unknowns of assisted living. She said she just wanted to be dead. I thought, “It sucks to be old,” and sat silently holding her hand.
I laid hands on Miriam and prayed, then I decided to keep vigil with her until the storm warning passed. This included two episodes of NCIS LA, and lots of chat about our favorite British shows on PBS.
Hospice worker bees should not consider their own gunk when their attention is supposed to be focused on another. However, between kidnapping scenes and crime drama banter, thoughts drifted to my own heart.
Growing up the storms raged between my parents and dark clouds more often than not rolled my way. I read the signs. I knew when to take cover. I hid as a child, mostly in closets, but once under a park bench. I ran to my next-door neighbor’s and hid in their closets until the mom no longer let me in. She no longer wanted to interfere. Then I ran down the street and stood out of sight until the storm passed.
I am empathetic central for those who wrestle with fear and severe anxiety. My own crops up every so often and I am virtually immobilized. After I broke my leg, I shook with fear for weeks. It got so bad I couldn’t live on my own. I finally hobbled into a psychiatrist’s office on crutches. He mentioned that adults who’ve experienced certain types of trauma as children can melt down when they lose mobility.
The guy nailed it.
I’ve been told taking meds lacks faith. I’ve been told that God’s perfect love casts out fear therefore I’m not close enough to God. I’ve had things cast out, prayed out, and banished to the pit of hell. It left me me confused, condemned, and damn touchy on the subject. I can smell bad counsel from a mile away.
Last night I loved on an old lady who was afraid and I carried a banner of God’s grace in the midst of her psychological and emotional suffering. I don’t think He asks more of us.
On the way home from the hospital, lightening lit up the sky and thunder shook the car. I love a good storm, but his time I observed it through new eyes: That of a young girl hiding in a crowded air raid shelter with the smell of fear in the air. I also had a strange foreboding that storms in my life are just on the horizon. But I guess they are for all of us. Please pray for Miriam.