Ellen hobbled haltingly into the dimly lit room where the grief support group met. Her cane seemed as much a hindrance as a help. She reached out with her hand to locate the chair her failing eyes could not see. Her thin, bent stature, gray hair and deep wrinkles were convincing evidence of her advanced years. Others who entered the room looked on this poor old creature with pity.
After an introduction and a welcome, I asked what issues seemed most daunting to this group of grieving individuals.
“I’m always so tired, because I just can’t sleep,” one person stated.
Another added, “I fall asleep OK because I’m exhausted, but I wake up at about 2 a.m. Then I’m wide awake, bombarded with a torrent of terrorizing images.”
Ellen cleared her throat. Everyone turned to the frail, helpless little old woman.
“I have difficulty sleeping as well,” she articulated clearly with a strong and bright voice, “so to bide my time, I recite the states and their capitals. Then I recite the presidents of the United States in order and, at 94, I’ve lived during the term of a good many of them, not that they were all good, mind you. If I still can’t sleep, I recite the Bill of Rights. And just this week, I started thinking of all the words I know in each of the letters of the alphabet and their definition. So I guess I’ve started creating my own dictionary. Hal’s been gone almost four years. He could be a real pain at times, but we spent 60 years together, and I still miss him.”
Suddenly, it was we who felt like the poor, helpless ones. Ellen’s physical appearance had told us little about her story, her intellect or the strength of her heart.
Each human being is shaped by the Master’s hand, an amazing and spectacular work of art, pulsating with living energy. Over time, the harsh realities of life seem to fade the colors and dull the sheen. With care and attention, though, these hidden treasures may be restored to again reveal their amazing beauty.
Each person has his or her own story, history and essence. Until I’ve listened without judgment and truly heard the story and assessed that individual’s “vital signs,” I do not really know or understand him or her, nor could I presume to offer any assistance.
by Chaplain Ron Hyrchuk
March 16, 2006