“These old hands have toiled and labored
Worked their fingers to the bone
These old hands have held more beauty
Than most have ever known”
Today I met my new Hospice patient.
After running the gauntlet of Covid screening and putting on the shield of personal protective equipment, I arrive at the doorway of her tiny, overheated room. Not knowing what to expect, I stand there watching quietly and knock. A small woman is sitting in her wheelchair with a halo of white hair looks up momentarily from the labor of her hands and stares at me standing in the doorway. The blank gaze in her cloudy eyes contains no fear as she regards my protective gown, gloves, face shield, and mask. Long ago, the thief robbed her of the ability to experience surprise and erased the patterns of social niceties called hospitality. Dementia led her away from the here and now to deposit her soundly into her own little world.
Quietly, I enter and take a seat next to her, and just observe through the “The Ministry of Presence.” Obviously, a conversation of any kind is not going to happen today because she was engrossed in a project.
What I notice is her hands gnarled with age but persistently moving. Large, angular, and knobbed with the telltale sign of a woman who used them to squeeze every drop of productivity out of her life.
Even now, after all these years of retirement, those weathered hands refuse to be still. So, the once nimble fingers repeatedly, meticulously count the string of beads coiled limply on her lap. A frivolous jumble of gaudy Mardi Gras beads from a long-ago erased memory.
Her mind is not oriented to person, time, or place, but fixated with a laser-like focus on recreating the necklaces.
“The opening is here,” she explains to no one in particular as she patiently poured over every centimeter of the shiny bright green beads. “No knots on this one,” she comments in a broken, unused voice. “How did they put them on here?” She asks me, not expecting me to know the answer.
At one point during our visit, she asks me to try one necklace on for size. Obediently, I slip the purple metallic beads over my head. She shakes her head knowingly. “It is too long. We have to make it shorter. ” Carefully, I remove her treasure off my neck and hand it back to her.
Once again, she bends her snowy head over her work and explained how she could fix it with her hands.
There are so many gifts to receive from the lives of the living as well as the dying. Behind the thick and murky fog of a brain slowing fading, lies a beautiful monument of this woman’s life! Today, I caught a glimpse of how The Creator fashioned her, the things she values, and what gives her remaining days purpose.
Psalm 90:17 says “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”