Grace in a cup of tea
Most of you know that Peggy’s mom, Miss Evelyn, has suffered a stroke. This post is about her.
To me, if there was one word I would use to describe Peggy’s mom it would be “dignified.” As long as I have known her she has tried to present an image of dignity and decorum in every aspect of her life. She had literally hundreds of things you did, and things you didn’t do, if you wanted to be dignified.
One of those things was that, as you walked to church from your car, you always walked in a slow, solemn, dignified manner. On rainy days, when others were scurrying into church to get out of the rain as quickly as possible, she never relented from her slow stroll. Far be it for a little thing like getting soaked to interfere with what was dignified.
As she got older, and particularly after her husband died, the toll of advancing age, and the shortcomings that came with it, made dignity and ever-harder goal. Yet she never wavered in her dignity quest. It finally reached a point just over seven years ago that she relented and agreed to move in with us. She could not maintain a dignified life on her own.
Once here, we became her partners in her dignity quest. We did this by helping her through the indignities her infirmities caused her, all the while never indicating that we were even aware of those infirmities. They were just not spoken of. Also, we helped her present to others her best appearance of dignity.
Yet the advances of age are relentless and, as those infirmities grew, she would at times be frustrated or discouraged. Peggy always had a solution to these times, a tea party. Miss Evelyn had always enjoyed a proper tea party; sitting down with other women (Sometimes we men were allowed, as long as we drank tea!) to slowly sip hot tea, from china cups. It was the ultimate dignified act. Peggy would call for a tea party and sit and sip with her mom. This act of grace almost always cheered her up.
Then, just over four months ago, came her stoke. We were not surprised that she survived a severe stroke and time in intensive care; she has always been a fighter. (In a dignified way to be sure.) But the stroke took its toll on both her physical condition and mental capacity and we could no longer care for her at home, so she moved to a skilled nursing facility.
By this time, her physical limitations made dignity an almost impossible quest. She regularly needed assistance and support in basic life tasks such as eating, bathing and dressing. Dignity went out the window. Her mental state was such that she seldom seemed aware of this need, or of this support coming to her, and we have come to see that as the grace of God. The old Miss Evelyn would have been mortified.
Work in a skilled nursing facility requires special grace. The pay is low. The work is hard. Almost none of your patients are going to get better. Many, if not most, are unable to even give thanks for the work done. Yet the demand to treat patients with dignity is high.
On Monday morning we went to visit Miss Evelyn and did not find her in her room. We tracked her down to the activities room where she was sitting in her wheelchair at a table alongside other residents. One of the staff members was sharing some stories designed to keep patient minds active and alert.
But this was not what struck us. On the table in front of Miss Evelyn was a cup of tea she had been given. She was slowly sipping it. She was at a tea party, more or less. I doubt she had the slightest idea what was being said. She is no longer able to eat and follow a conversation at the same time. But for one moment, as we watched, we could see the dignified Miss Evelyn. I have little doubt that the feeling of dignity had penetrated her mind and, for that moment, she was content.
Monday was MLK Day. One of Dr. King’s sayings was on my mind as I watched her. “All work that provides service to others is a dignity.” I would agree and take it a step further. “All work that provides dignity to others is a grace.” I dedicate this post to that woman who gave Miss Evelyn tea, to the other workers in that facility, and to all those in similar facilities to whom everyday grace is a constant reality. You challenge me to make grace a part of my life.