I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face
Kristen and her four little kiddos packed 50 white lunch bags with goodies for me to take to seniors on my holiday visits. This is the second year for Operation Secret Santa for People in Nursing Homes. They lovingly rubber – stamped Christmas decorations on the outside of the bag and placed three sheets of colorful tissue paper to fluff up the inside where their caring little hands had nested the angel ornament, candy cane and holiday bookmark with the necklace attached to the cardboard. And they had enclosed coloring book pages signed with their names.
Fifty angel ornaments, fifty necklaces and fifty candy canes. Sounds like a receipt at the Dollar Store for more than a hundred dollars at the cash register….to give to me to give to strangers. To people who are lonely, grieving and worried. People who are no longer spring chickens!
Oh and there was a gigantic bag with miscellaneous items – wool scarves decorated with sparkly baubles, window decorations that cling to mirrors and any sort of glass…..and other fancy gift items. Bags that carried hope and comfort in all shapes and sizes.
But, I couldn’t wait until December to make the special deliveries. My mother was sitting down on her chair in the family room and unbeknownst to me, she had just said one of her favorite prayers – What do you want me to do today, Lord?
Hey, Mom. Do you want to take a ride with me to Philadelphia to take these bags to the residents at a nursing home?
Okay, let’s go.
John was sitting in the hallway with his wife Alma – his bride of 42 years. Alma had her face hidden under a plaid blanket. I asked him if she would like a scarf. He asked how much they cost. Nothing, it is a gift. I wrapped the soft purple flannel one around her neck and gave her the items in the gift bag. She held them but they did not seem to hold any meaning for her. She didn’t react until I tried to put a heart decoration on her ponytail. She swatted her hand at me.
Eight weeks ago, I don’t know what woke me up about 3 am…..well, yes, I do know. It was God and I looked over at my wife. She had a strange look on her face and there was saliva on her mouth. Oh, Alma….please, you didn’t have a stroke……
I got a washcloth, put it under hot water and rung it out real tight and wiped her mouth. ‘Alma, if you aren’t better in ten minutes, I am going to call 911.’
That is just what I did and they took her to Einstein. She was there for two weeks. And then they told me I had to find some place for her. This was the only place I saw that I liked. She doesn’t talk anymore. This is how we communicate. She looks around the room and then her eyes stop on something. And I say, “Alma, is it the light that you want me to turn off?” or “Are you looking at the glass of water, Baby?”
I come every day. We live 20 minutes from here by car. She likes to sing This Little Light of Mine, I’m Going to Let It Shine. Yesterday, we sort of sang it together.
Can we pray together? I am a deacon at my church.
We all bowed our heads. Alma appeared to be sleeping.
Lord, if you see fit, please make my Alma better. Heal her. And thank you for these two ladies. I do not know their names. Bless my two sisters whose memories of growing up I cherish. Church bells, crickets in the fields, laughter, going to church, blessing us, blessing those we prayed for and reading Scripture. They are far from me. Geography separated us. One is in a nursing home in South Carolina and the other is living with her daughter in Georgia. There were six of us kids. Now just three who have not gone to heaven. The others were called Home. And my father, God rest his soul…..ladies, can we sing his song that he used to sing to me when I was knee high to a grasshopper? Can we sing Amazing Grace? I am sorry that I am crying now, Lord. His name was John, too. I am in my 80’s and I try to keep my emotions in but right now, I can’t. I am thinking of my father and my sisters and my wife. Lord, please touch me and lift my spirits. We have a great need for prayer in this nursing home.
My mother pulled out her hymn book. First she read the words aloud and then we sang the old hymn.
When the woes of life o’ertake me
Hopes deceive and fears annoy.
Never shall the cross forsake me:
Lo! It glows with peace and joy.
Then we sang This Little Light of Mine. Alma kept sleeping. John kept singing verse after verse…..verses that I had never heard. Probably lyrics that he and Alma had made up together.
His gentle voice continued quoting scriptures from memory interspersed with sad tears falling. He dabbed his eyes with a handkerchief.
The Lord will hear when I call unto Him.
Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.
It was time for us to go. He stood up and started to walk. I could see that he had something wrong with his leg. He was limping. He hobbled favoring one leg. Was it the crushing grief in his heart that made him hunch over a bit or had he broken a hip in the past?
He didn’t seem like a quitter or a grumbler. He was calm. I thought of a beautiful love song from the musical My Fair Lady. I could picture John singing it about his beloved Alma.
I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face
I’ve grown accustomed to her face
She almost makes the day begin
I’ve grown accustomed to the tune she whistles night and noon
Her smiles, her frowns, her ups and downs
Are second nature to me now
Like breathing out and breathing in
I was serenely independent and content before we met
Surely I could always be that way again and yet
I’ve grown accustomed to her looks, accustomed to her voice
Accustomed to her face
A bitter cold was settling in on us. He looked out the floor length plate glass window and then turned and said, “Jesus is with us always. We cannot see Him but I call upon Him in times of crisis.”
It had only been eight weeks since Alma lost interest in life and could no longer put feelings into words. I think it is going to be a tough holiday season for him.
Thank goodness Kristen is teaching her little ones to think of others. The pretty scarf will be a reminder to John that Kristen and her kids are praying for Alma. How do I know they will? Because when Kristen gave me the scarves, she told me that there were prayers tucked into the folds of the scarves and into the items that were gold and shiny.
You have to believe that Someone orchestrated this special time and yes, I truly believe that Kristen and her good-deed kindness kiddos are angels on earth!
She has taught her kids the joy of being givers!
Patricia Gallagher is the Director of the Stories for Seniors Program. If you or your organization would like to prepare a holiday gift bag for residents of local senior living communities, please visit www.storiesforseniors.wordpress.com or call 267 939 0365.