For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘nursing home

Today, I took B with me to visit two church members at a  local (Catholic) nursing home. As we were leaving, he pointed out the window.

B: Hey! God is here! They have God here!

Me: What do you mean? Where do you see God?

B: Right there! Look! It’s God!

Me: You mean that statue?

B: Yes! That’s a statue of God.

This is what we saw from the window.

Here is the progression of my thoughts and feelings at that moment:

  • Fascination, to see what my little guy imagined God to be.
  • Delight, at his proclamation, “God is here! They have God here!”.
  • Sadness, to realize that already, in spite of my best efforts to offer contrary images, he already pictures God in classic renaissance human imagery.
  • Intrigue, to query him about exactly why he thought that was God.
  • Amusement, to get a closer look at the statue and realize that it was quite effeminate, like a fairy with angel wings.
  • More amusement, when I realized I hadn’t completely failed, because my three-year-old saw a statue of a girl with wings and daisies in her hair and called it God.

Here is a closer view, where you can really see the effeminate, fairy-with-angel-wings characteristics. Especially the daisies in the hair.

In the end, I decided to simply offer my opinion.

Me: I think that looks more like an angel. Angels have wings like that. You know, we don’t really know what God looks like. God is pretty complicated that way. Nobody really knows what God looks like.

B: Yeah. You’re right, actually. (Actually being one of his favorite words.) Actually, that is an angel. Can I run now? Will you race with me?

And we’re back to earth again. Except that as I watch him run gleefully, blissfully down the sidewalk, waving back at outstretched hands from nursing home windows, I think maybe I do know a little something about what God looks like.

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B celebrated his first Communion today, a few weeks shy of his third birthday. We were visiting a parishioner in a nursing home, taking communion for Christmas. As I was setting it up, he got very inquisitive about what I was doing, and he said, “I want to have communion too!” That was enough to make me say yes.

As a child, my parents decided that we should not take communion until after our confirmation, usually around age 12. Because everyone in my home church went forward to kneel at the altar to commune, I remember feeling conspicuous, excluded and isolated sitting alone in the pew. I remember being angry that people thought I wasn’t old enough to understand, and a sense of righteous indignation that anyone would try to deny me access to Jesus’ own body and blood. Clearly, I understood what communion was all about–I should have been able to partake. This experience has given me a passionate commitment to the openness of the communion table to this day. Christ invited everyone to partake at the table–no one should be denied access to Christ’s table, for any reason.

In reaction, I decided I would never deny B the chance to come to Christ’s table. I also decided that I would not ever allow him to participate without some explanation of what we were doing. This is not “snack time.” Since we will be serving communion at the family-oriented Christmas Eve service, I figured that would be his first time. I had planned to spend some time explaining it in advance. But today he asked to be a part of Christ’s table, and I could not deny him. Prepared or not, today was the day, this nursing home room was the place.

As I filled the tiny cups and stacked the silver platter with wafers, I explained to him that this was very special juice and bread–that we didn’t eat until we heard the story, and that the story was about Jesus. This bread and cup help us remember the story about Jesus. Then I proceeded to perform the short liturgy for home communion. B listened carefully throughout, and paid attention appropriately. He was probably more attentive than the resident we were visiting!

When the time came to serve, I served my parishioner first, then broke my piece in half and gave some to B. He held it until I said, “take and eat,” and he took and ate. I had to tell him to wait, not to grab the tiny cup of juice that was so tempting, but he waited patiently while I served her and took a sip myself before giving him the rest. Then he drank, and sweetly collected the cups and carried them to the trash.

Oh, the life of a preacher’s kid! What an odd collection of spiritual milestones he will have!

Who knows if he will remember this, but it was a special moment for me, to include him in this holy sacrament, to bring him into the circle of Christ’s family table. I pray it will be the first of many, many tastes of the bread and cup, and that he will always feel welcome at the table.

Today, I took B with me to visit two parishioners who reside at a local nursing home. It is a large, well-run facility, where I have visited at least six long-term residents over the last four years. One small wing is for short-term rehabilitation, but the vast majority is for long-term residential care.

One of the women we were visiting has very little family, and no other children in her life. I have been taking B to see her since he was a newborn, and they have a very special relationship. She is weak and requires oxygen, she can barely hear and has a difficult time communicating. The one thing she’ll talk about–with anyone who ever visits–is B, and how much she enjoys his visits. She doesn’t even look at me anymore, it’s all about interacting with B. They play with her stuffed animals, he races cars on her lap blanket, he shows her whatever toy he’s carrying. He holds her hand and we pray together. I have only visited her one time without B since he was born, and she wouldn’t even talk to me.

Today when we showed up, with B in a Santa hat and carrying a gift for his special friend, we were turned away at the door. The receptionist informed us that, because of the swine flu, children under 14 were no longer allowed into the facility. At all.

At first, I assumed they had had an outbreak of flu and were under quarantine, but when I questioned her she said the policy had been in effect for several months, which means my last 3 visits with B were “illegal.” She then moved aside a wheelchair and another sign to render visible the poster announcing the new policy, and opening the door to shoo us out. At this point, I was getting really irritated.

Me: “So, you mean that no children are ever allowed in this facility again?”

Receptionist: “Well, some families get around it by meeting in the conference room, but that’s only for the residents well enough to get to the conference room.” (My two residents are not.)

Me: “So you mean to tell me that none of the residents are allowed to visit with their grandchildren or great-grandchildren for Christmas?”

Receptionist: “Well, we’re trying to protect them from getting sick.”

This is a nursing home–this will likely be the last Christmas for many of their residents. And they have to spend it alone? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Of course, at this point, I just feel awful for the woman we are planning to visit, who had been promised a visit from her special friend B before Christmas, and now gets to be told she is forbidden from ever seeing him again. And for B, who is looking increasingly forlorn. After we get outside, he says, “You can’t visit because of me? I want to be Santa! I want to see (friend)!” He looks like he’s going to cry.

I told him it was not his fault, that there was a sickness going around and they were trying to make sure that no one got sick. But I wanted to cry as well. I will fight this. Before we even got to the car, I had left a message for the chaplain at the facility, who I know well and knows about the special relationship between B and this resident. I haven’t heard back yet.

I understand the need to keep children away from medical facilities, including hospitals and even rehab hospitals. Those are temporary situations, and unless they need to say a final goodbye in the face of a terminal illness, there is no reason young children need to be in a hospital. But this is a RESIDENCE. This is people’s home, where they live for years. This policy basically means that once Grandma goes to live at the nursing home, she’s never allowed to see her grandchildren again until they turn 14. Absurd!

I know B will see his special friend again, because they need each other and I will fight and even sneak him in the back door if that’s what it takes. But I am so sad for all the residents who will have to spend the holiday season isolated from the grandchildren and great-grandchildren they love, those who give light to their lives and meaning to their days. This is a season when those in long-term care facilities feel a special sense of isolation and loneliness–this policy of isolation cuts off the one lifeline most of them have, their connection to family and the next generation. I am so sad.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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