“So, you’re a Chaplain…in a nursing home. Wow. That must be depressing.” I get that, or like-statements, fairly often. And I answer, “Yes. Yes. And yes and no.” And actually the term, “Nursing Home,” is rarely used now days. We call these facilities by a number of new, more politically correct names: Extended Care Facility, Nursing Care Facility, and a variety of such innovative names that make us feel better about the purpose of the facility…to provide care for people, who cannot be cared for at home – or even worse, who have no one to care for them.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have nursing homes. But I am saying we, as a community of faith – and as individual families – could and should do a better job of caring for our elderly, if at all possible. (I was shocked when I was working as a Chaplain in local hospital’s emergency room, when I was told that some people drop off their elderly family members and just leave them there.) It’s an indictment on our culture, I believe. But I’ll save that for another story.

What I really want to talk about is Miss Mary. I try and visit her every time I go to the nursing home, but I have very limited hours and a lot of people to see. Miss Mary is my first patient to tell me, “I love you,” each time I leave her. It’s not “Chaplain protocol,” but I tell her that I love her too…and I mean it. Miss Mary is alone. She has one family member who lives far away, but apparently they aren’t in contact with one another. She has a friend who serves as her legal power of attorney, and sees to anything that needs to be done in her now vacant home, but other than that, she is alone.

During our visits, she cries, and I listen to her as she pours out her sorrow and frustration over her situation. She desperately wants to go home. But there is no one to care for her, and she would need a round-the-clock care-giver. She can’t afford one. The doctor told her that she would be eligible for hospice, which means that it is likely that she will die within six months or so. She was a nurse, so she understands all of the implications of her diagnosis and treatment.

During our most recent visit, Miss Mary was despondent over several things – not being able to return to her home – and the fact that it would probably have to be sold in order to pay for her medical care, and that one of the staff had labeled her as a “complainer.” I don’t think of Miss Mary as a complainer. I think of her as someone of great value – someone deserving of love and compassion and respect.

She tells me, “Wait until you’re old and no one wants you, or cares if you’re around.” I hold her hand and listen. I don’t give her meaningless platitudes and I don’t tell her everything will be all right, because she knows better. What she needs is for someone to hear her, someone to care. She needs a kind word and a moment or two of my time. She needs a friend and someone to help her to understand her worth, even at this stage of her life – when she feels she has no value.

Please don’t tell me that Miss Mary and our other residents are “lucky to have me” visiting them…caring for them. I get that a lot, and it’s just not true. In fact, I’m the lucky one. I consider it a privilege to be there with them, especially during this sacred stage of their lives. I am blessed to be a companion on this leg of their journey. I can think of no better, more fulfilling ministry, and I thank God for allowing me to be a participant.

July 22, 2013

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Kim Chafee

I am a lover of the God who sings! I am a Christ-follower and an ordained minister married to the other Rev. Chafee (Scott), with two grown children and a multitude of pets. And, I love chocolate. Read more about me and the reason for this blog on my ABOUT page.

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  1. Thanks! Always good to meet co-workers! Blessings to you in your ministry as well!

  2. Good and faithful servant-I am in your shoes & I agree. No better place to be.
    Revealing Hope, Joanne+

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