This is part four of a series about Norma who was admitted to hospice at the age of 76 with debility. Norma was excited about the prospect of sharing her life lessons with you in this series. Aaron, an LPN at the nursing home, told me. “Two or three weeks before the first one came out, Norma told me that hospice was going to put her in the paper and when I asked her why she told me, ‘I guess they think I’m an interesting character.” Boy, was that an understatement!
Norma’s gotten into my head and I can’t get her off of my mind, but why in the world would I even want to? In part one of this series Norma implanted into my mind the importance of “finishing what you start” and in part two, the folly of making promises and the wisdom of just saying, “If the Lord wills”. In part three, “Things we can learn from a dog”, I was reminded of the value of loyalty, affection, sincerity and putting people before things. But the most valuable lesson I’ve learned from Norma is the one she taught me indirectly, by observation.
When Norma’s condition declined and she needed 24-hour care, she moved from her daughter Essie’s home into a nursing home. Both Essie and Velma, Norma’s daughters, cried for the first few days. But when I asked Norma how she was doing, she replied, “I think I’m doing better than Essie. I’m adapting and I’m adjusting and I like the people here.” I told Norma that she and Thurman, another patient I had several years earlier, were at the head of the class when it comes to adapting, “co-valedictorians”.
In an attempt to glean and pass on some words of wisdom, I asked Norma for her secrets to adapting but to my surprise she couldn’t come up with any. It wasn’t until a couple weeks later that the light came on. I was talking with Norma’s daughter and son-in-law, Velma and Kermit, at Norma’s bedside. Velma shared, “There was a fellow in a wheelchair in the hallway in front of Mom’s doorway the other day and Mom got up and started walking towards him. I asked her, ‘What are you doing?,’ and she said, ‘His shoe lace is untied and I’m going to tie it for him. He’s liable to get it stuck in his wheelchair.’ But I told mom,”‘I’ll do it.’” We talked about how, in a short time, Norma had become the resident matron of the unit, about how the other residents frequented her room and she would direct them from her bedside chair. Then Kermit shared a story, “When Norma lived up by us she cut the lady’s grass who lived next door to her. She mowed it with an old 22- inch Murray push mower and she cut it just like she thought the woman would want it done.”
As I was leaving the nursing home I encountered Norma’s other daughter and son-in-law, Essie and David, in the hallway. While we were talking, another resident slowly shuffled by and said, “I want to go back to bed.” Essie said, “Hold on a minute, I need to help Rosie get back in bed.” While Essie was helping Rosie, David said, “I’m really a lucky man. Essie has such a big heart.” When Essie returned she told me, “There are three patients here that I’ve been looking out after.” Then the light came on. I realized that Essie was just like her mother and that the secret to Norma’s “adapting” and “adjusting” was that she continued to look out for the interests and needs of others. In spite of her own problems and issues, she didn’t allow herself to become self-absorbed and self-centered.
Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4)
Loren Hardin is a social worker with Southern Ohio Medical Center – Hospice and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 740-356-2525.