The gift of presence

I find aged-care facilities uncomfortable. I don’t know how to interact in such environments and find it intimidating and confronting. There are situations I can’t solve, and circumstances I haven’t navigated.

So this year has been very illuminating. For while I feel I have little to offer senior citizens, particularly those in need of high-care, I have discovered the richness I possess and which I can share with them.

This discovery has been due to the passion of one woman – a dear friend who is the director of nursing at an aged care facility. With her as our inspiration, I and a group of young adults, have made tentative steps to recognising, valuing and loving those who are so often pushed to the margins of society.

My friend had briefed us before we arrived for our first visit, as we had all been feeling somewhat nervous about the visit. After the briefing, we knew a little of what to expect and had some tips about how to interact with the residents.

However, I could still liken my first visit as feeling like I was trying to restore a priceless and fragile sculpture, with only a mallet and broom to do so. I felt like I was being thrust into a situation of great delicacy while being thoroughly ill-equipped to deal with it.

To assist with the visit, and give us some direction as to what to do, we had all nominated a different activity to assist with. These included pampering, hosting a high tea, playing music, putting on a BBQ or helping with gardening.

I sat with some of the women, planning to moisturise and gently massage their hands and paint their nails. However, while many of the women enjoyed pampering by some of my friends, those I was trying to help did not seem receptive at all. So I packed away the moisturiser and with no other ideas about how to help, I simply sat with them as we listened to someone play the piano. Truth be told, I was slightly disappointed that my efforts to help had failed.

One lady I was sitting with was quite aged, very frail, and couldn’t talk.
After a little while I remembered our briefing so did what seemed strangely personal, and reached out and took her hand. She looked at me with little reaction, and I hoped that this was okay with her, knowing she was hardly capable of responding.

We sat like this for another 30 minutes or so. Me, a 30-something, feeling slightly awkward. Her a 90-something, feeling who knew what.

As the music came to an end, she looked at me again, (as she had done several times), but this time she broke into a huge grin. Perhaps it took that long to smile, or perhaps she only meters out her smiles as she sees fit, but whatever it was, I knew in that moment that I had given her something I had completely undervalued.

I had given her my presence.

The act of drawing near is simple, and yet so many hearts ache for lack of such a gift. In a world where we’re often judged on what we do, we can forget the powerful comfort we can offer by being present with another person.

We have just celebrated Christmas, when the birth of Christ gave us a powerful demonstration of Immanuel – God with us. We don’t have to be a Christian, however, to take heed of such a demonstration, and remember those for whom our presence is a gift divine.

~ Ruth Limkin.

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