Beauty is everywhere

Isn’t it remarkable how humans are so adaptable? The nursing home, which a few days ago seemed like one of the most God-forsaken places on earth, now doesn’t seem so bad. Mrs. J even told us this evening that she’d rather be there than in the hospital. As for myself, I’ve been able to look beneath the surface and see that there is beauty in the most unlikely places.

The nurses seem to genuinely care about the patients, which really surprises me. I figured they viewed it as nothing more than a job, but I’ve seen nothing but gentleness and kindness.

This evening, a little lady rolled her wheelchair out into the hallway and loudly demanded something to clean her fingernails with. The two nurses working in her vicinity giggled to one another, but one quickly arrived to clean her nails.

The nursing home has an amazing physical rehabilitation facility and Mrs. J gets therapy five days a week. We got to watch some of it the other day and I was again impressed with the faculty.

One young woman dresses up her small dog in costumes and brings him in to greet the patients. The dog loves the attention and the patients love the dog, so it’s win-win.

The lady in Mrs. J’s room obviously has Alzheimer’s, yet the nurses always respond to her nonsensical questions. Having never really been around anyone with this disease, I have been a little fascinated watching the effects it has had on her brain. Some days she seems better than others – today wasn’t one of them.

She had somehow gotten it in her head that she and her husband (who sits with her all day, every day) had three cars and one of them was broken down. She became almost hysterical, thinking that they were stranded there, unable to get home. Despite her husband’s constant reminders that they were in the nursing home, she insisted on calling her family members to inform them that they needed a way to get home.

Finally, after hanging up the phone, she turned and informed us that she was apparently supposed to spend the night there and that she had been told to put on her gown and go to bed. I couldn’t help but feel a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth from the absurdity of it all, but it quickly vanished when she began sobbing and apologizing for causing everyone so many problems. She cries often, but I’ve discovered it seems to stem from frustration when she can’t get her thoughts together. What a sad, devastating disease.

So, even though I desperately want Mrs. J to come home, I have decided that things could easily be worse. That’s a much better feeling than I had Monday evening.

Worth living for

Our neighbor was moved into a nursing home in our small town yesterday. She was told the arrangements Monday night, just before Honey arrived to spend the night with her in the hospital. She wept as her niece and him tried to cheer her up by telling her it was only going to be temporary, that she would be closer to home, and would have plenty of visitors.

Her regular doctor actually told her that she probably wouldn’t ever return home, which is an unconscionable thing to say to someone in her situation. However, the physician that performed her hip surgery said he felt that she would be able to after healing completely. She said she is determined to prove her regular doctor wrong.

So, yesterday evening we went to visit her in the nursing home. It has been years since I used to visit my great-grandmother when she lived in one and I was feeling quite nervous about it before arriving. I could remember people clutching at you from their wheelchairs, the floors being littered with feces and urine, and the terrible stench that usually greeted us at the door.

Apparently things have changed since then, as this place actually looked pretty nice on the way in. After working our way around those sitting in the hallways, we arrived in her room. We had hoped that she would be placed in a room with another person of sound mind, as the companionship would have been very beneficial, but it appeared that her roommate has Alzheimer’s or some other mental illness. She could carry on a conversation to some extent, but asked off-the-wall questions, like wondering if we were the ones that had won the lottery. If only.

As I stood in the doorway of her room and looked around at the other patients – those in the hallways and those in their rooms – I couldn’t help but feel a terrible sense of helplessness and despair. These people are literally waiting to die. I overheard one nurse telling another that one of the patients told her that they were “praying for the Lord to take them.” I could certainly empathize. Those who were asleep in their beds seemed to be the only ones at peace.

Not too long before we left for the evening, Mrs. J looked at Honey and said, “Now don’t you understand why I would rather be dead?” He told her not to worry, that she was going to get well and come home. I was practically in tears by the time we left, so relieved to be getting out of the place and feeling guilty that she didn’t have the same luxury.

As we drove home, we discussed the inevitability of death and the possibility of being in assisted living someday. We both decided that it would be much better to die suddenly from something than to slowly decline to the point that you can’t take care of yourself. A nursing home seems like some form of hell-on-earth, where you long for death as you lose control of your body and your mind.

I was also reminded of Deepak Chopra’s statement on Larry King Live last week, when he compared death to a stalker. He said that he knows death is coming for him and it’s a little closer every time he looks over his shoulder. He said we’re all on death row and we all know we’re going to die; we just don’t know which method of execution will be used. Depressing thoughts, but so true.

Honey asked me how God could allow these things to happen to people; how so much suffering in the world seems to go unnoticed by a supposedly gracious and loving God. I stammered out some response that I’d heard a million times before, not even believing my own words, as these kinds of things also cause me to question my beliefs. How could He allow the weakest members of the human race – the youngest, the oldest – to be so neglected and so abused?

The amazing thing is that it never seems to weaken the faith of those who are actually going through turmoil. Mrs. J asked us to bring her Bible, her Sunday school materials, and to pray for her. Tammy Faye, staring death in the face a few nights ago, never blamed God for her disease. Instead, she looked towards a brighter future. What a comforting thought that must be. I pray that one day I can attain an iota of her faith, and the faith of my precious neighbor. That seems to be just about the only thing worth living for.

Neglect

Neglect
By Brian

They’re wilting and dying
A bit more every day
Sensing change in the air
They begin to decay

It’s so easy to see
Lack of care, neglect
A weed here and there
Just what you’d expect

Unripened tomatoes
Spoiled right on the vine
They long for the touch
Of hands that aren’t mine

I wish I could save
All the blooms that I see
The petals and stems
As divine as can be

There’s not enough time
Enough days, enough hours
But until she comes home
I’ll water her flowers

A better man

“You make me want to be a better man.”

Those were the words that Jack Nicholson said to Helen Hunt in the spectacular film As Good As It Gets. She responded by telling him that it might have been the best compliment she’d ever received. I didn’t fully understand what he meant until recently.

That statement pretty much sums up how I feel about my partner. I came to the conclusion this weekend that he’s a better person that I am, as I watched his heart break over the situation with our neighbor. He’s been through this type of thing before when he weathered the loss of his grandmother several years ago, yet he never stopped allowing himself to love. Even though he knows the pain that we have to endure when someone we love is separated from us by death or circumstances, he never once tried to protect himself from it.

I’ve watched him interact with her on many occasions, feeling my heart nearly burst with pride as he embodied patience and compassion. He would sit with her for hours on end as she recounted stories from her long life, not only listening, but remembering the details to tell me later.

After visiting with her at the hospital Friday evening, we discovered that no one from her family was going to spend the night with her. This would have been her first night alone, and we knew that she was feeling rather fragile mentally and physically. Her own son didn’t think it was necessary for anyone to stay and since I had to work the next morning, I didn’t volunteer.

As we left the hospital, Honey informed me that he wanted to stay with her. We went to get some dinner before returning to the hospital to give her the news. Her face lit up as he told her that she wouldn’t have to stay alone and she admitted that she really didn’t want to.

As I drove home it suddenly occurred to me that he is a much better person than I am. Where I had resisted doing what needed to be done, he had volunteered. While he doesn’t consider himself a very religious person, he had exhibited very Christ-like behavior.

So, it is with great pride and love that I say to my partner, “You make me want to be a better man.”

My burden

Upon arriving home from church yesterday afternoon, I noticed a slip of paper stuck in the door. It was a letter from someone that I’ve known for years – a girl that I grew up with at the church of my youth. The well-intentioned letter described her “burden” for me and my soul, begging me to repent and “come home.” One sentence felt strangely like a warning, telling me that she doesn’t know what the future holds, but that I needed to seriously consider my fate. I was a little taken aback by the letter and the wording, but I realize that she is doing what she feels she has to do, and I harbor no resentment. She is genuinely concerned about where I’m going to spend eternity.

I was immediately reminded of a recent visitor to this site who called me a “sodomite” and told me to change my wicked ways, informing me that God had used her words as a final warning for people before. I’ve also received this type of letter in the past from my own grandmother, stuffed with gospel tracts and pleadings to repent and be saved.

While I consider these letters and writings to be little more than scare tactics, I will admit that they make me uncomfortable and even slightly nervous. The paranoid part of my brain tries to convince me that they are somehow connected – that it’s not mere coincidence and that I must be headed straight for hell. Then the intellectual part of my brain kicks in and I realize that these are the same kinds of things that people have been doing and saying to me for years. That’s when I get a little angry.

Even though these attempts by others to make me see the error of my ways may be out of true concern, I am being disrespected in the process. My feelings about religion and God are completely disregarded in a brazen manner when I’m told that I must “come home”, a clear indication that I should return to the church of my youth or one like it. The fact that I’m already going to church is completely ignored. I fall victim to their narrow scope of what it means to be saved or a Christian.

To them, homosexuality and Christianity are incompatible; as long as I’m gay, I’m going to hell. They believe I would be transformed by a born-again experience, redeemed and made straight in one fell swoop. They don’t know about the hours in prayer and the tears that I’ve shed as I begged God to save me and make me straight. They don’t understand the fear that comes from being told who you are, not what you do, will send you to a lake of fire.

Yet, they also don’t seem to understand that religion is a personal thing between a man and his maker. No one else is responsible for my soul, except me. I am trying to figure all of this out for myself – through reading, studying and praying. Maybe I’m not supposed to “lean on my own understanding”, but I figure God gave me reason and I should use it. It’s ludicrous for anyone to assume that I’m not concerned about my soul or where I’m going when I die.

One thing that really bothers me is how my rejection of this type of behavior is sure to be spun as my rejection of God. If I die this week from a heart attack or an automobile accident, there will be those who stand in church and use me as an example of what happens to those who turn God away. I can imagine the funeral, where my true friends mourn my passing while acquaintances lament my terrible fate. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to escape such sentiment, no matter how I live or believe.

While the writer of the letter described her “burden” for me, she has no idea of the burden it is to simply be me. Perhaps if she came to that realization, she might understand that there’s nothing that she can tell me that I haven’t heard before and that she isn’t responsible for my salvation. That’s between me and God, and that’s one “burden” that I take very seriously.

‘Love Never Fails’

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. – I Corinthians 13:8

dorjo

Love Never Fails
By Brian

Almost eighty-nine years
She has lived
She has dreamed
She has laughed
And she has loved
Oh, how she has loved…

Life may turn joy to pain
And laughter to tears
It may steal away our dreams
One by one
And rip away all we know
And hold dear
But life can never
Ever
Destroy love

The future looks oh so bleak
And the past…
Nothing but memories
Lots and lots of memories
Precious things so easily lost
In the depths of the mind
But love doesn’t fade
Love always remains

So, for now
She’ll laugh through her pain
She’ll smile through her tears
Bravely facing the unknown
And she’ll love
Oh, how she’ll love…

Woman of steel

Our dear neighbor lady, who is eighty-eight years old, fell a couple of days ago and broke her hip. She was working in an outside flower bed when she lost her balance and fell backwards onto the ground. No one heard her cries for help, so after several minutes she finally pushed the alert necklace that she wears and an ambulance arrived to take her to the hospital.

We didn’t know anything had happened until an hour or so later when I arrived home on my lunch break. We hurried to the hospital that afternoon, but were unable to see her until after surgery. They placed a steel rod through the bone to help it mend back together, and she seems to be doing pretty well considering everything.

The doctor mentioned a nursing home almost immediately after seeing the family and it bothered both of us a great deal. She has told us on numerous occasions that she would rather die than go to one, however, it seems inevitable since she has lost her mobility and has no family able to care for her properly. We expressed our willingness to do whatever we can to help, but there are some things that we probably couldn’t take care of – like personal hygiene.

Her only son lives a couple of hours away and is currently caring for his invalid wife at home. Her grandchildren are scattered across the country. It would seem that a nursing home is the only option, even though everyone is aware of her feelings about it.

We did get some better news yesterday, when her son informed me that the hospital discussed keeping her on their rehabilitation floor for a couple of weeks so she can get physical therapy and possibly get back to walking. I was also surprised to hear that she had already gotten up (with help) and sat in a chair for an hour. Her son said the doctor explained that the type of break and surgery that she had is the easiest to heal from. We are now hopeful that she can come home after her hospital stay, as the neighborhood just isn’t the same without her.

There was a really cute thing she said after surgery, when the nurses were checking her into a room and asking the usual questions. As they inquired about any changes in her eating habits, she loudly announced that she had been craving chocolate, which gave us all a much needed laugh!