For seven years I visited a man in a local nursing home. As my relationship with him grew in those seven years, so did my connections with the leadership and staff who took care of him.
On June 7th Frank died. Last week the nursing home held a memorial service for all of the residents who had died from June – September. It was a very simple ceremony held in the dining room. I was there as a friend in support of the family. But I received an amazing blessing by being present.
Quality of care for our parents, family members, and friends as they age is a concern we all have. How do we care for our loved ones as their ability to care for themselves diminishes? How do we deal with our own sense of limitation in facing their care needs? There are no easy answers, nor is there one answer for everyone.
Sitting at Frank’s memorial service helped me understand something about care. I watched as one of the nurses joined with a family member, embracing each other as they walked. Like a couple at a wedding ceremony, they lit a candle together honoring the person who had died. But they also honored the commitment made to each other, formed through the years of care. It literally took a village to provide the quality of care Frank needed in the last years of his life.
After the candle was lighted, they each returned to their own place – he to his fellow nurses and she to her family. That was the dance that had developed over the years. Frank was entrusted to the care of the nurses and staff who supported his family and friends as well. The family remained family all those years while acknowledging they could not provide the physical care he required.
As I pondered this, I realized that the essence of ‘care-giving’ is truly giving Care. There are so many intimate relationships created as we age. And for most of us, more and more people are invited into the conversation and dance about who will provide the care needed for a loved one.
The question What is the quality of care that is needed now? comes back to us like an echo over and over again each year. In answering this question, our circle of intimacy expands exponentially. More people are invited to enter our lives and the lives of those we love in deeply personal ways.
As the service drew to a close, one of the residents who had shared a meal table with Frank, came over with her walker holding two white roses. “I miss him” she said as she gave us the roses. As she had been part of his life, she too shared in our grief.
In his poem Fourth Quartet, T.S. Eliot writes:
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
As we age and care for others who age, Eliot’s message and the memorial service ring in my heart. Quality care-giving demands moving into more intense, intimate relationships.
May your life be filled with those who deeply care for you and may you share that caring with others.