Helping those who can't help themselves
Her home was nestled in a quiet cul-de-sac surrounded by tall green- leafed cottonwood trees that made the neighborhood cool with the shade it cast in the hot July sun. As I entered her living room I was welcomed by the familiar sounds of a small “yap, yap” and her pocket-sized pooch excitedly alerted excitedly of an intruder. I bent down and outstretched my hand which was met with a cold wet nose and small puffs of air as the canine sniffed my fingers, wagging its tail in approval. Her fur was well groomed and soft to the touch as I ran my fingers aggressively along her sides, scratching back and forth as I went.
Her home was small but well decorated with a touch of classy grace that made it obvious the owner was an elderly person. White furniture with beautiful trim and elegant pillows sat in esthetically pleasing arrangements. Prints of Monet, Kandinsky and Van Gogh hung from the walls adorned with striking frames that brought the paintings to life. I greatly enjoyed the view I had every time I entered her home, but as much as I wanted to, I never took the time to sit and enjoy the beauty it provided.
As I entered the bedroom at the far end of the home I saw a mountain of cloudlike blankets and pillows pitched snuggly around a sleeping woman on the bed, and I noticed a calmness I had never before experienced. Betty was a sickly, arthritic woman whose skeleton like body was quickly passing through the final stages of life. As I neared her bed side, I looked at her emaciated face and although I had never experienced it before, I instinctively knew that the calm I felt as I entered her room was her spirit preparing to be carried to its eternal home.
I had known Betty for just about six months. I worked as a Hospice aid and visited her three times a week. It was my job to help her get ready for the day by assisting her with showering, getting dressed, brushing her hair and teeth and making her breakfast. As time went on, my relationship with her and her two daughters that often stopped by grew. I realized very quickly that I enjoyed helping her. Without noticing, my emphasis shifted from receiving a paycheck to striving to make her comfortable and to renewing her dignity during her last days. This mindset change was surprising to me, but something that I was eager to cultivate. It made me feel like one of the young men from the Book of Mormon who sought to do things because it was right, not because they had to.
Her daughter had told me that she loved taking warm bubble baths. The heat allowed for a temporary relief from the pain of her swollen joints and shriveling body. Because of her old age she lacked the strength to get in by herself, so I would willingly pick her up from her wheel chair, bend over and as gently as possible place her in to soak. Although Betty could not speak I knew she enjoyed her baths because of the joyful look in her eyes as the warm water washed over her saggy skin. She never spoke the words “thank you”, but she didn't need to because the cheery look on her face as she soaked in the tub said it all.
That morning, when I realized she was about to pass, I contemplated forgoing her bath fearing that I might cause her withered body unneeded stress, but her daughters urged me to continue, knowing it would comfort her. I quickly undressed her and, as was customary, picked her up in my arms and carried her from the bed to the bath. As I placed her in the warm water, I saw a glimmer of light come over her face while she gained a slight reprieve from the pain. She looked up at me as I washed her body; she stretched her long aged fingers, reaching for my hand. As she held it, in an almost inaudible voice whispered “thank you”.
Betty was a perfectionist and loved getting gussied up. Her daughters told me on numerous occasions that she would never leave the house unless every hair on her head was perfect. I knew that this would be the last time she would get dressed in this mortal life, so I took care in changing her into an outfit I knew she would have agreed to have her loved ones to view her in. I even assisted as her daughters put rollers in her hair and applied a little makeup for the last time. The entire time I was with her I continued to feel the calmness I had noticed earlier. As I picked her up and laid her in her bed I knew that this day would be the end of her mortal sojourn. I looked at her one last time and saw the form of a woman who had devoted her life to the service of others. Her body was left old and decrepit, but her soul was strong as it drew closer to her eternal companion that had been missing for forty years.
This experience was the first time I gave service to someone in their dying days. I became very close to Betty and grieved her passing, but was comforted with the knowledge that I would see her again.