It happened again today. Ollie, my wife, was shopping at the supermarket. She was picking out fruit and vegetables when a man she had never seen before spoke to her.
“It’s really strange, me doing the shopping. My wife always handled this chore.”
Ollie asked, “Is your wife not well?”
“No, she has dementia. I’m the chief cook and bottle washer now.”
Ollie briefly shared her compassion with him and the two went their separate ways.
When she was telling me about it she said, “He just had to tell someone.”
Clearly, he wasn’t looking for an answer. There is no answer. This is the new reality for the man until death takes one of them.
There are lonely people everywhere we look. Ollie and I have visited the elderly and shut-ins for many years. It’s a task we took naturally to and enjoyed. When the kids were small, we took them with us, much to the delight of the elderly.
A few years ago, when we were looking for an assistant pastor at our church, I went on part time staff specifically to visit the sick and elderly, a task usually handled by the associate pastor. Even after our years of visiting, that sixteen months were probably the most difficult, and yet the most gratifying in my experience. During that year we lost twelve people from our congregation. Ollie and I were involved with nine of them, either in their homes or, more likely in their hospital rooms.
There are many people quietly visiting the needy, seldom recognized and little appreciated, except by the folks they visit. Still there is no end to the need and the opportunity.
It takes no special skills or training to be of comfort to others. The key, we have found, is to keep the visit about the other person. Everyone loves to talk about their families, their careers and their health struggles. Seldom did we ever talk about ourselves. The visit is not about us; it is always about the other person.
I admit to sometimes feeling frustration when a mobile person is struggling with loneliness and there is a telephone sitting on the desk, and the church directory is there with hundreds of names in it. I found myself sometimes thinking, “So why don’t you call someone. Meet for coffee and a visit.” But that’s judgemental and beyond my forcing that issue.
A common excuse for not visiting a shut in or the disabled is, ‘but I don’t know them.’ I can promise you that makes no difference. Make the call. Set the date. Keep it about the other person. Hold the time to an hour or less. Be upbeat. Pray with them before you leave, if that is your leaning.
I encourage you to try it. You’ll encourage someone and who knows, you just might enjoy it. And if someone in the supermarket speaks to you, take the time to listen. You could change a life, or least one day for that person.