Dear Donagh, We live nextdoor to an elderly couple who have no family or near relatives to look after them really. They get Home Help and a nurse visits them, but they seem so lost, like small children. . I drop in to see them and I spend a bit of time with them every day that I'm able - but I'd like to make that quality time, instead we spend ages talking about the cat and what she did and didnt do. That cant be what life is about. How can I talk to them about deeper things? But I dont want to alarm them either as if theyre going to die any day!! Can you make any suggestions? Thanks…. Maureen
Dear Maureen, you have a good heart, and your letter shows how important neighbours are! We choose our friends, someone said, but mostly God chooses our neighbours for us. Your presence is a blessing for that elderly couple, even on the days when you can't be with them. They are being cared for by the Home Help service and the nurse; because of you they also know that they are being cared about. These are two kinds of help that can never replace each other; one is as important as the other.
I wouldn’t worry about the cat conversations! A cat is more than a cat. That particular cat is their cat. They have a need to look after her and to tell you about her doings and non-doings! The lives of elderly people, I suppose, become narrower as their movements become more restricted. To an active person that seems less bearable than it does to them. Everything is relative. They may not feel quite as lost or lonely as they look. Because you have an eye for this it will not escape you if they become lonelier than they are now. If they want to talk to you about the cat, that's all right; it’s to you they are talking, not to the cat. One of the great Christian mystics, Meister Eckhart, said, “Indeed, a person will not get more of God by meditation, by devotion, or by ecstasies… than by the fireside or in the stable.” He didn’t mention cats, but the principle is the same. He also said, “We need not worry that we are missing anything. For with God one can miss nothing. With God one can no more miss anything than God can miss anything.” When the heart is in the right place it doesn’t matter what we talk about. Which brings me back to ‘presence’.
It is your presence to them that counts. It doesn’t matter greatly what you say; what matters is that you are there, and willing to be there. I often think that our presence is our first language. What we speak is our second language. If someone were in hospital and you visited them to explain to them why they were sick (eating too much or too little, smoking, not taking exercise…) and asking them what they were going to do about it, you wouldn’t be very welcome after a while! But if you went and just sat with them you would be doing something of great value. The world in many ways is like a hospital: it is full of pain and suffering. God's response was not to send us an explanation of where we went wrong, but to become one of us in the Incarnation. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”
God bless the good work, Maureen.