When I stepped onto her hall, I could see her slippered feet just outside the door frame of her room. In her wheelchair, she rocked heel to toe, toe to heel, back and forth and back again.
“Hey, there,” I said, crouching to her height and attempting to push her chair back so I could get into the room. (Imagine a 5’4” duck wearing jeans and a tie-dye T-shirt pushing a wheelchair backwards; you get the picture.) I managed it, then pulled a stool right up next to her chair so I could speak directly in her ear. Nonagenarian ears aren’t especially known for their acuity, you know.
She does not know me; when I began my job at her church, she was already at the point of needing care. I do know her, though — at least vicariously. Her heart is woven into the fabric of our church. I’ve heard stories that told about her love for her church family, her heart for missions, her love of worship. “Such a sweet person,” they all say. “Such a tender soul.”
That day though, she was all out of sorts. She reached for me, her brow furrowed, her gaze unfocused and skittish. In a frantic, high-pitched tone, she began explaining the reasons for her angst. Sadly, her mind had played havoc with her reality again, leaving her agitated by imagined evils. Yet regardless of the validity of her concerns, the fear she was experiencing was undeniable. She begged me to do something to right the wrongs she had described.
“I promise I’ll check on that in just a minute,” I told her, kissing her cheek and stroking her arm. “But before I do that, let’s sing a song, OK?” When she refused, saying we didn’t have enough time and that she was just too upset, I started singing anyway, hoping she would join me.
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound ….”
That’s all it took. Recognition dawned and she began singing along, her memory as sharp as ever.
It reminded me of when I sang those words with my own Grandmama. We sang it in church, Grandmama all dressed up in her pink polyester suit, me with my ’80s hair teased to perfection. We sang it years later too, when she lived with my parents, her favorite pink suit now several sizes too large. By then, Grandmama had lost track of the decades, but she knew “I once was lost, but now I’m found.”
I remembered singing it to my tiny daughter when I was a young mother. We’d be awake, just the two of us in the wee hours of the morning, when fear would cease me. How could I possibly be worthy of this gift I hold in my arms? The song sang itself: “Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound! That saves a wretch like me.” It became her lullaby. And mine.
There in the nursing home that day, we sang all the verses, then moved on to Jesus Loves Me and other familiar favorites. Once between hymns, she squeezed my hand and, exuding absolute joy, said, “Oh honey, I love this!”
When it was time for me to go, I promised to come again and to bring a hymnal next time. She smiled, content, and said, “God bless you, honey.”
“We’ve no less days, to sing God’s praise, than when we first begun.”