My Kung Fu Panda is gone and I am feeling the loss.
This animated martial artist of whom I speak is a resident in the long term care community where I work. I gave Lily (not her real name) this alias. When I would wheel her to her room after exercise class, she could only use her feet to open the door; her arms had already betrayed her in the battle against arthritis. She remained a feisty and determined power house barely exceeding four and a half feet. Given the signal from behind her wheelchair, “Hi-yah, Kung Fu Panda!” she would erupt into giggles as she kicked the door open wide.
This soft-spoken widow came to live with us six years ago. With a dignity that evades many at this stage of life, she took this season in stride and with remarkable class. The only thing she was insistent upon was that her single room must replicate her former home as much as was possible. When one has to cram over eighty years-worth of memories into one room, it’s no small undertaking. Her children, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren however, rose to the occasion. Lily’s room was like stepping into your own grandmother’s house, albeit a miniature version. What some people would refer to as kitsch, her choice of décor told stories of days gone by. With needle point tapestries framed alongside family photos, knickknacks and children’s art adorning the walls, potted plants lining the window sill, one could almost hear the woodstove crackling in the corner. Her very first Christmas with us, her granddaughters took to the pine tree outside her room and decked it out with larger-than-life Christmas tree ornaments that Lily could enjoy from her window on the first floor.
This single room created a home-like atmosphere that would see staff go in to complete one simple task, but emerge sometimes half an hour later as the draw of both Lily and her home lured the visitor in, much like a warm blanket on a cold day.
The simplest of things brought joy to Lily. Being able to tend to her plants was one of them. How many times I caught her tottering towards the window sill to water or dead-head her plants are too numerous to mention. All I could do was ask her to be careful; she was doing what made her heart sing and who was I to quench that fire? While her family kept vigil around her bed during these last days, I recounted a story about a Lily-inspired escapade. My own memory fails me when I try to remember how we had found ourselves on the topic of “forget-me-nots”, but somehow it became a mission to find these dainty blue flowers and plant them outside Lily’s window for her to enjoy. But do you think I could find any in even the most reputable nursery or garden centre? Nope.
Confession is indeed good for the soul:
I. Stole. Some.
Enlisting the help of a friend, (ok, I wanted an accomplice) we ventured to a public park at dusk where there was a beautiful spread of these prolific blooms. With my friend keeping guard, I produced my little spade and dug furiously to free from the earth, a sampling destined for a new home. Satisfied with my excavation, I loaded the contraband into the back of my car and my partner-in-crime and I sped off into the night.
Arriving at work the next day with the spade and stolen forget-me-nots, I got right down to the business of transplanting. Lily had tears running down her cheeks as my confession of thievery unfolded. Sadly, it was only a matter of weeks before a careless grounds keeper weed-whacked her little blossoms, but the story remained long after the flowers’ demise.
In the health care profession, we are cautioned against getting too close to our charges, but remaining objective and professional. While I agree with this in theory in a general sense, compassion fatigue being the typical fall-out of not following the suggestion, I think Jesus had a different approach to caring for people and I tend to like His way better.
Jesus says to “Rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep.” There’s something that happens when a family member sees staff openly cry over the loss of a resident. The life of their loved one is affirmed as being one of substance, value, and one that made an impact even in their final days. Their loved one was cared for AND about; their absence will be felt.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…” (Colossians 3:23)
Working in long term care comes with plenty of challenges and opportunities to burn out, but when I keep my eyes on Jesus and the mandate He has set for me, I am reminded that I am doing so much more than working for a company. I am working for Him, doing the job for which He ordained me. It is not by accident that I am where I am. He has a way of highlighting a resident for me that tells me that I’m on assignment. He provides the grace, the skill and the wisdom to know what, when, where and how. He only requires a willing heart.
Lily, I believe, was one of my assignments. She entrusted me with stuff that weighed heavily on her heart; things that required prayer with her and for her, all of which she readily accepted and appreciated. There is a deep satisfaction in knowing that you helped someone tie up loose ends before they made their final departure and being assured that you will be laughing about forget-me-nots when you meet again.
The Christmas tree ornaments still adorn the tree outside the room that was Lily’s final earthly home. They’re faded and not quite so spectacular as when they were first hung, but no one has the heart to take them down. So there they will remain as a reminder of a life well lived and loved.
Yes and amen.