Paying a Visit
Oh, how times have changed! With handhelds and computerized calendars, we schedule recreation, study, exercise programs, driving the kids here and there (to THEIR appointments), medical checkups, errands, shopping, block time for business, church and social appointments.
These commitments go by the wayside when we are faced with serious illness - our own or that of someone near and dear to us. Priorities change. Days in the hospital smush together, a series of pokes, prods, pills, punctures and procedures. Time stands on its ear - our bodies, minds and spirits are going through a perilous journey, sometimes short sometimes seemingly interminably long.
For the sake of this writing, let's include you in the role of someone who is a passing acquaintance of the person concerned: you are both parishioners at St. Simeon's Church. You are Mr. X and Mrs. P has broken her hip and there are some medical complications. No, you don't know Mrs. P well; she is long widowed and in her 80's. She has no family. She was taken to the local hospital for initial care and most probably will go to a local rehab/nursing facility with the hope that she will recover and be able to go back to her own home.
You, Mr. X, are not comfortable in hospitals. The smells, the sounds are unnerving to you. None of your close relatives have been to the hospital except to have babies; none of them are elderly, none of your close relatives have died. And besides..... what can you talk about??
Take heart: You've got lots of options. You can learn from your parish care team (headed by priest and/or deacon, lay eucharistic visitors, a key member of each parish committee, others) that Mrs. P has been hospitalized. You inquire from them whether she would enjoy a phone call, a card, a plant. You can inquire whether she would appreciate a visit. If they are encouraging, then you take a little time to prepare yourself. It is safe to say that you both might feel a bit awkward... that is normal. Say some prayers to center yourself. If you feel comfortable praying with someone, you might bring a small prayerbook in case SHE wants to pray with you.
Hospital visiting is not overly difficult, but it is very intentional. You are visiting the sick, fulfilling a baptismal promise. Your demeanor is best peaceful - not overly jovial, not overtly dramatic. The visit can be very short - you need not stay a long time, unless Mrs. P asks you specifically to stay longer. Ask whether she wants to say some prayers together - do not assume one way or the other. Remember, the illness/condition has exhausted her - as has the hospital routine, which contorts time as we know it. The most important thing you are bringing to her is presence - the presence of God in your form, the concern of the community and your care as well. You needn't say a great deal. The fact that you took time out to come to visit her will speak volumes.
Three things to keep in mind: 1) she is entitled to feel the way she feels - allow her to say whatever is on her mind without contradiction or reprimand (example of what not to say?: "Don't say things like that!); 2) don't make promises (another no-no: "Oh, you'll be just fine in no time at all). If you plan to follow up the visit with a call or a visit at her rehab place or home, tell her so AND STICK TO IT. If you can't make that promise at that time, don't mention it. Anyone in this vulnerable position doesn't need to be disappointed if you can't follow through; and 3) you DON'T know what she's going through. It is common to give a response such as "Yes, I know" or " I know how you feel" - try to avoid that..... because you are not in her place. It is far better to say something like "I can't even imagine how you're feeling".
If you are praying for her, tell Mrs. P that you are praying for her strength and for the medical people who are caring for her. Just listen. I can't stress how important for someone who has lost some of their physical capabilities, their independence, an iffy future to be listened to - to be taken into consideration - to be supported: all just by showing up and listening.
If you find out, after your visit, that Mrs. P will be going through protracted rehab, think of someway to follow up by visiting or calling, sending a card, joining the LEV in bringing the Eucharist to her some Sunday. These are ways we become a caring community; these are ways that we grow our capacity for compassion; these are ways we experience our humanity in a positive way.
Consider expanding your pastoral team in your parish. Join or initiate a "telephone tree" when someone is sick or needs prayer; join or initiate a team of "Hallmark Angels", sending cards for get wells, birthdays, congrats, condolence, anniversaries, etc on behalf of the parish; join or initiate an adopt a grandparent/grandchild program to encourage intergenerational contact; join or initiate a newcomer initiation/incorporation program.
There are so many ways to serve - paying a visit to someone who is ill or in need blesses both the visitor and the visitee. And may you be an instrument of God's peace!