During my time at Bethel, I have been spending about five hours a week hanging out with people on average in their 80s and 90s, and I must say it is one of the best parts of my week.
I started going to the health-care facility to fulfill my service learning scholarship hours, but I chose to keep going there because of the people.
I have met the most wonderful people—ladies who are expert quilters doing hand-stitched detail work; Southern ladies; one-room school teachers; world travelers; Kansas farmers; Bethel alumni and retired professors; World War II veterans; conscientious objectors; someone who lived in Germany during World War II; a wedding dress seamstress; incredible musicians; and people who lived in Newton during its prime, when people [named] Warkentin lived in what is now the museum about them, and the railroad brought through troops and presidents who stopped to wave.
What I do there, to me, feels like [just] hanging out. Depending on the times I am able to go, I have helped pass out ice cream on Mondays; assisted with pop-and-popcorn Fridays, worship services and Recipe Club; and brought people to music therapy.
But I mainly do one-on-ones with residents. I walk the hall to see who is in their room and awake and if they are up for a visitor. I enjoy looking at the pictures on their walls and asking about the people in them. I find out where they grew up, how many siblings they have, how they met their spouse—and let me tell you, I have heard stories that put the movies to shame.
While I know I am there to serve, I have never left that place not feeling blessed. Ask my modmates—I am always telling how much the residents have made my day.
I have learned more about the culture of that generation—such as, hand-shaking is important [as a sign of respect].
I have learned [these are] not stereotypical
old people. I know each person as an individual, just as I hope they have learned to know me as me, not as a stereotypical
naive young person.
I have learned to be okay with silence.
When I am having a conversation with a resident, there is no rush. I have learned to be patient with having to repeat myself, talk louder or just to wait for a response, and the wisdom that comes if I wait.
Talking with residents, I have heard what was important to them. I hear about their kids and the jobs they did for 30 or 40 years. They talk about falling in love and the places they traveled to. They tell me about their spouses’ deaths, deaths of children, of parents. I have realized what kind of person I want to be when I am 94, and how what’s important to me now will shape who I am then.
I want to have a job I love, but not one that when I am old, my kids don’t come visit me because I wasn’t around for them. I want a love like they talk about—something they worked at and fought for. I want to keep up relations with my siblings so when we live across the hall from each other it’s not awkward but a piece of home.
I have seen intelligent, respected, independent-minded people humbly accept assistance to the dining room for an activity, and I have seen them decide to proudly stay in their room. I have sat with angry and bitter and lonely people, and that’s hard to take sometimes. The people I have met see the big picture better than I can at times, the value of certain priorities and the waste of time in others.
They have confirmed the power of ministry of presence—something my youth pastor taught me in high school. Sometimes you don’t say anything, but you just sit there, and maybe hold their hand.
I have seen the power of Christ giving peace to a dying lady. I stayed with her for maybe 15 minutes, and I’ll never forget the feeling in the room and the peace about her. I didn’t know she was dying, but I later learned she had died that night, which explains the peace in her room.
I have no doubt there were angels there.
I have learned so much about God. The people have shown me kindness, servant hearts and faith in God through the worst of times.
Some of them just love Jesus so much, it’s all they can talk about. Not in a judgment kind of way but in a
Oh, God is sooo good! Do you know the Lord? kind of way. Some of them always want to make sure I know Jesus. I have prayed with them, and seeing the impact of that faith in their lives is very powerful.
I feel very blessed to be allowed into the lives [of these residents], and I am thankful for the many life lessons they have taught me about family, aging, heartache, faith and love. As cliché as it may sound, it’s all true. I am thankful for the opportunity to call them my friends.