Lessons from the sick room

Sidelined. Alone. Fogged. Weak. Wanting. In the days and nights that ran into weeks, then months, as my body grew weaker instead of stronger, when no amount of trying would produce an alert mind to use “down time” for writing, it would have been easy to entertain self-pity. To give up. Or blame God. Wasn’t he listening? Didn’t he care?

When nothing else could stir my body or stimulate my brain, he woke me to pray for a warrior in danger on the other side of the world, or a single mother struggling to provide love and nourishment for her sons, or a young woman who lost her child to a brutal death, or for the one who wanted so desperately to mother a child. I prayed for friends whose mates suffered from physical or mental ailments, and whose hope was close to evaporating in the morning light. For struggling families, and for those alone. For widows, those who lost loved ones, young ones waiting for forever families, and for adoptive families climbing mountains.

As I lay in bed and prayed, following the urgency, I entered a rarely trod pathway of heart ache that held me with the Peace that passes understanding.

Odd, unexplainable, I often felt the pain of the one pictured before me. I agonized with that person and prayed as I felt encouraged to do. Then, as the compelling to pray lifted, I knew peace was restored to the one I was interceding for, that my work, for now, was done.

And I, too, was wrapped in that peace.

Phil 4 7
So, when friends wrote or called to encourage me from discouragement I was often surprised.

Somehow, not being physically healed was okay.

Sometimes we have work to do that does not involve mind and body. No hands. No feet.

Simply a willingness to listen and pray. Sometimes for minutes, at times hours. One session continued almost non-stop for a week, as I felt a dear life hung in the balance.

Certainly I missed participating in activities with my family and friends, and was sorry to have to pull back from church, leading Bible studies, from writer’s groups and social events.

But I was not alone.


And the more I responded to the call to pray for others, the more my room filled with a holy presence, with sustaining grace.

It runs in the face of the Western way of life, especially for Americans. We must be active, work hard, try harder.

Some even see unrelenting illness as a sign of sin or lack of faith.

But, I’m sure if you go to Christian refuges from Syria or to persecuted Christians in Pakistan or Cambodia, they will tell you a different story.

This world is not our home.

We were created for eternity with God.

And anything in our lives that drives our hearts to Him is worth it.

Any. Thing.

Now that some functionality has been restored, every time I hear this song, I have to stop and listen.
Take it in.
And remember.

What has driven you closer to God?

Compassion for those suffering the shadow land of dementia, and for those who love them

The other side of the true religion equation is caring for widows. In the months leading to my widowed mother’s death last July she longed to be free of her dementia ravaged brain and the bizarre world she crept through each day. When she died, I thought I’d feel peace, for the end to her torture, and for me, relieved of the day and night weight of trying to ease her pain, brighten her life, lift her load, with rare success.

Mom and a great-granddaughterInstead, I miss her wacky presence. I miss having a Mom, even if I’d been the one mothering her for years. Instead of taking care of a widow, I am an orphan.

And I have become extremely sensitive to the multigenerational relationships around me.

I notice the middle-aged woman easing her father out of her car to the wheel chair—often a great challenge in itself—and chatting with him about what he “needs” to buy in the grocery store. I want to hug her and encourage her to keep on.

I also see the daughter or son impatient with their confused or fumbling parent in the doctor’s office. I want to intervene and say:

I know the days are long —

Often the nights as well, if you have your loved one at home, or just can’t sleep because they are on your heart and mind.

I know they can be exasperating, exhausting, argumentative and unappreciative.

I know sometimes you are so bone tired you don’t know how much longer you can do this.

At times you don’t even want to see your “loved one.” And you feel guilty. Somewhere you know, probably unprocessed, they are not your enemy. It is the ravages of dementia you both battle.

And in the midst of it all, you are grieving.

All the little losses of who they used to be, or say, or do, or love

As they lose abilities and you take on more responsibilities, you know this is slow.motion.dying.

It rips you up inside.

My humble advice:

Let go of who they were.

If there is anything at all that they enjoy or respond to now, go for it, in spades.

If I had a do-over I’d give my mother more baths, more back rubs and loads of ice cream, because that’s what really brought a smile to her face, until near the end.

If your once unsmiling, go-by-the-rules mother is all of the sudden giggling at all the wrong moments, giggle with her.

It hurts to see your once proud, successful father muttering in a wheelchair or wearing diapers, but he still needs a kiss on that wrinkled cheek. He needs you, not just folks paid to care for his needs.

If she wants to dance in church, go early and dance with her.

Don’t worry so much about their falling down or getting lost. This is strange coming from one who used to teach American Red Cross classes to seniors about safety, but at this point in their lives, I believe connecting is more important than safety.

Seek every opportunity to relate to whomever you have before you, today.

I believe that even with those who seem to be disconnected, deep inside, your loved one is still there waiting for you to reach in when they can’t reach out.

Waiting to feel loved.

Needing so much the security that only connection with you can give them in the nightmare inside their head.

Find music from their childhood or youth and play or sing it. Sometimes a song can “wake” a person who hasn’t responded in months. I sang in a nursing home to a semicircle of wheel-chaired patients, one in the back slumped over, oblivious. When we started singing an old gospel chorus, she sat up in her chair and clearly sang every word with us. We learned later she hadn’t talked or responded to anyone in months.

Several years ago my sister told me about the book Still Alice. I read it in a wash of tears, and it changed how I looked at behaviors that once confused or irritated me with our Mom. (I’ve heard the movie is also good. If you go, take lots of tissues.)

Impatience turned into compassion.

So cry when grief hits your gut, then wipe your tears and dance, hug, rub backs, and sing.

And hold them and pray, out loud, because their spirit is still alive, hungry for eternal words when the words of this world no longer have value.

1000 Voices for Compassion

There is a movement afoot among the blogging community to stir our readers toward greater compassion.

Crystal Cook's photo.


I’m on board.

As a shy child I was a watcher, and still am.

I see the older sister trying to smile brightly, while everyone fussed over her little sibling, the one who stole her place in the family.

I see the hurt and withdrawal on the woman’s face after her partner cuts her off and puts her down.

I see the homeless man, sunken in on himself as he pushes his cart, all his earthly possessions.

I see the young teen waiting near the high school for a ride home. He doesn’t fit, no crowd to belong to. He plugs in and tunes out, his smartphone his only friend. Does he pretend to be texting, trying to make people around think someone wants to hear from him?

I see the woman who slips in the back, and leaves early, so she won’t have to feel the emptiness of friendship swirling around, leaving her out.

I see the teen girl – way more of her than I’d like – trying so hard to matter, not knowing she’s worth so much more than skin and sex.

I see the woman with the scarf tied round her head, holding tightly to this life as chemo gives her hope, but steals her strength, and more.

I see all of that on one, normal day in an affluent, safe town in Florida.

Bario Los Fuertes from water Roatan , Honduras, CA
Bario Los Fuertes

What I saw in Honduras, like most third world countries, was often very painful.

Gaunt women hauling firewood, balancing a bucket of water, two or three bare-footed little ones trailing behind.

A girl not yet a woman giving birth on an earthen floor, her walls found-cardboard, and her only companions huge roaches.

A man who can’t find his way home after drinking all night, slashing his friend with a machete.

A little boy burned over 75% of his body from a kerosene cook “stove” made from a large can.

A lame diabetic woman left to her own resources, until the stench of gangrene in her leg drives her neighbors to call for help, too late.

Dona Estefana, Bario Brick Bay, Roatan, Honduras
Dona Estefana

All around the world we can recognize pain, if we have the eyes to see.

But only if we are willing to feel, because we can’t really see if we aren’t willing to feel, too.

I know, we don’t really want to think about and see children tricked or kidnapped into sexual slavery.

Or masses of people abused because of the color, gender, or social status they were born into.

Thousands driven out of their homes, and many murdered, in the name of religion, their children growing up in refuge camps.

And what of the pain we can’t see with our eyes?

Only the heart sees the pain

of the death of a child or mate,

of miscarriage,

of bareness,

of abortion,

of child abuse covered and ignored for years,

the singular pain of being “other,”

of being alone.
Woman in Switzerland by Jack H Thompson

Because I see, I can so easily feel overwhelmed.

After about four months in Honduras, I collapsed and cried, “I don’t want to see one more poor, miserable person!” My husband reminded me that taking care of the world is not my job. Not even Tela, Honduras. I can only change what God puts right in front of me to do.

So, with open eyes, I look, I see, I feel.

For many, just being SEEN is a gift.

Sometimes I can take action, but more often all I can do is care, and pray.

And we can all benefit from a prayer, can’t we?

To drive away the darkness, strike one match.

Take out your heart of compassion.


Light one candle, however you can.

Are you on board?