Thursday, November 25, 2010

First Night

I knocked and no one answered the door on my first scheduled visit to his house. So I knocked again. Nothing. Feeling kind of panicky and a little uncertain, I tried the door. It was unlocked so I let myself in. It was my first evening of providing care and homekeeping services for an older gentleman with developmental disabilities. I had only met R. once, briefly a week and a half prior and one of my many concerns was that he wouldn't remember me tonight and wouldn't let me in his house.

As I stuck my head through the front door and called out, "Helloooo? Anyone home?" Silence. "R? Are you home?" Silence. And then I smelled the humid, fresh scent of soap and realized he was in the shower. This was another of my tasks that had me worried. His family is afraid of falls but I wondered how in the world to offer such intimate help to someone you've only met once.

"Hi R! It's Tanya. . .Do you remember when we met last week? Do you need any help?"

Suddenly the bathroom door popped open and out he came – one hand propelling his walker and the other holding up his only clothing, a bright red towel.

The only internal discomfort appeared to be mine.

"I remember you! I'm going to get dressed right now."

"Do you need help?" I asked.

"Nope. You wait there."

With silent relief I waited and surveyed my surroundings. He had his Thanksgiving decorations up – the exact same turkey, Pilgrim and pumpkin cardboard cutouts that I pasted in the windows of my childhood homes. He was working on a jigsaw puzzle on a table in the living room and his Christmas lights were in a neat pile in the corner, waiting for the proper day to hang. His kitchen was immaculate and a list of emergency telephone numbers hung on the refrigerator door.

He came out of his bedroom wearing jeans and a light blue t-shirt. His shirt was tucked in, his pants were belted and he had socks and slippers on his feet. For a guy who was going to bed in less than an hour I was impressed that he didn't come out wearing his pajamas. I would have.

We went to the kitchen so he could eat his dinner. I was aware that he cooks his own meals but I was impressed by his routine. He heated his entree in the microwave while he set the table. There was a placemat with all the proper paraphernalia, including a knife which he wouldn't need, all in the correct place and order. He tucked a napkin into his shirt and draped another over his lap before digging into his meal.

We made small talk while he ate. It did smell good, and when I said so he grinned. "One of the things you don't know is that I'm a very good cook!" Indeed. As soon as he was done eating, he filled the sink with warm soapy water and did his dishes. I was beginning to realize how important routine is for him.

My other big responsibility in helping with personal care is shaving. R. is in his late 70's and has some issues with vision. He's pretty good at shaving his face but has been having some trouble managing under his chin and neck. The hair has grown to be at least 3" long and he's beginning to look unkempt. When the dishes were done I suggested we move into the bathroom so we could shave.

I asked him to show me what he normally did and he grabbed his electric razor and got started. When he quit after about 30 seconds I asked about all the rest of the hair. He said that it was too hard and his razor didn't work good enough. "Fair enough," I thought. "Let's just see what we can do."

I had him sit on the toilet lid and started trying to remove the hair under his chin. The razor was useless. I found a pair of scissors in the medicine cabinet and as we chatted and giggled in his tiny, incredibly hot bathroom I got started cutting. I was kneeling on the floor in front of the toilet.

He is an older man, doing the very best he can do to maintain his dignity and a life of meaning and purpose. I was thinking about all this, and about how he could possibly trust me so quickly and easily, when abruptly this story came flooding back to me. It comes from Matthew 25 and it concerns living as someone who understands what it means to love God and others –

{Jesus is speaking} I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.'

"Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.'

There are many things that R. struggles to do, but being kind and funny is not one of them. That night the tiny bathroom smelled of urine. We were both sweating, my legs were shaking from kneeling for so long and I wasn't making much headway with scissors – but that's not the real reason I was there.

I was there because R. and I have many things to teach each other.

My hour was nearly up. We gave up on the shaving for the night and I got ready to take my leave. As I put on my coat R. opened his arms for a hug. I leaned down and he put his still-whiskery lips on my cheek and gave me a kiss.

"I think you and I are going to be friends," he said.

I left with tears in my eyes and a certainty that he is right.

1 comment:

Ami said...

Adding kindness FROM others TO others to my list of things I am thankful for today and every day.