Nursing Homes: Fears & Visits
During the holidays I visit my relatives in nursing homes. I hate doing this since it is so depressing. Do I have a cold heart?
Only God is your judge regarding cold-hearted living.
However, I do sympathize with you, if that helps. No one enjoys seeing a once-vibrant person wither away in an institutionalized realm. It’s distressing to see our elderly loved ones losing the mental capacity to understand why they aren’t back home surrounded by people, activities, and tasks that brought them comfort throughout their lives. They often plead with us to help them return to that warmth and security since it may be beyond their capacity to realize their need for assistance. The bathing and toilet, dietary needs and levels of medical care often cannot be accomplished by unskilled family members.
We visit them within these important facilities and suffer alongside them at the sight of their deterioration. It is often as painful for us as it is for them. The person we knew is waning or gone. Our visits are dutiful expressions of our love; in honor of the memories they gave us; how they contributed to our lives and what they meant to us then and now. But we know they don’t want to be there and neither do we. Visiting nursing homes becomes a heart-ache of the truth: we may all end up there, sooner or later. Maybe we don’t like going because we’re forced to see the reality of our potential future.
Even in the best, cleanest facilities, we hold our breath at the smells. Our eyes see things we cannot unsee. We observe the loss of dignity; a person in terminal pain; or a vacant stare from sunken, lifeless eyes. Our ears experience shouts, garbled mumblings or even screams from those whose minds have passed into another world while their bodies remain stuck on earth. It seems cruel.
We may even question the Lord in the aftermath of a nursing home visit: Why would He leave people in that condition? Why are they there, absent of mind and spirit, waiting to die? Where is God’s mercy? The Christian will have these thoughts, yet must return to the well-worn path that is the bedrock of our faith: Trust the Lord. Don’t judge what we perceive are His actions or faults…in this case…our presumed neglect of His care. We do not know what God knows about that situation; the person and the family.
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:8, 9, NASB95.)
In some cases, the Lord is waiting as well. He waits for that person who rejected Him in life to take His hand at last. God also waits for a family member to release their dying elder to the Lord—for that person to be willing to let them go. He even waits for a distant son or daughter to make the journey and visit one final time. While we wait upon the Lord, He is often waiting on us.
As a pastor, my job calls me into a lot of nursing homes. I sit at bedside, observing a devout parishioner reduced to a shadow of who they were. They cry; they weep; they ask me why God forgot about them. I soothe and pray with them. Mostly, I listen to them talk (if they can.) While they speak, I thank God for His creation of them: their bones He knitted together in their mother’s womb (Psalm 139), their sagging, pleated skin that has clung to their frame all these years. Their hair and eyes, once full of life, spark and color. I bless them under my breath until peace wraps around us both and I am able to leave them to rest.
While these visits to the elderly, disabled and ill will never top our list of exciting, wonderful moments in life, perhaps they are truly an important part of our lives. We must respect and honor all life until that last, appointed day. We must love our neighbors to the very end.
Do you have a question or comment for Pastor Adrienne? Send your inquiries to: email@example.com or write to P.O. Box 214, Harrison, OH 45030. For more information and booking, please visit: www.adriennewgreene.com