I have had an elderly client for several years that I have been helping, doing private duty care for him because he had almost no family left. His mind was ravaged by Alzheimers during his last 5 years of life and he lived in a facility for people with similar kinds of dementia and the special needs that they have. I went to visit him three mornings a week, at the request of his daughter, who managed his care from a distance. I would do things that were not done well where he was living. I would clean his apartment, take him out for lunch, read to him, listen to him, and just Be with him.
Although I don’t think he ever knew my name, but he always lit up when I came in and he knew that somehow I “belonged” to him. He trusted me implicitly and would allow me to do cares for him that he would not allow anyone else to do. One of the things I did for him every week was to soak his hands in a warm, soapy basin and clean his fingernails and trim them and then give him a gentle hand massage. He would relax and seem to love it and then be so happy with his clean hands.
You see, he had a very difficult behavior that some people with dementia have…where they are upset and afraid of their need to have bowel movements and they hide their feces and stash it under furniture and in drawers, etc. For those of you who have worked with people suffering from dementia, you will know what I mean.
David did this all the time and because of this he always smelled awful, his room smelled awful and he was shunned by the others he lived with and nobody wanted to be near him. This was perhaps the most unpleasant task I have had in all my years of caring for sick and elderly people…but I made a commitment in my heart that I would do all that I could to help this poor man by cleaning his room and cleaning his hands and washing his clothes. We never had any conversation because he had long passed the stage were he could make sense of words, but we had plenty of silent communication that was certain and beautiful.
Last night, I had the most beautiful dream about David. In my dream I was kneeling at a Communion Rail, as we used to have in the older Catholic Churches and I saw David walking up to the Altar as if he was going to see God Himself. He did not speak, but he held up his Clean Hands and was showing them to God.
Then David turned to me and showed me his Clean Hands and he had tears running down his face and the most magnificent smile. He didn’t speak to me in words but I knew he was thanking me. And I thought of the words of the Gospel “Whatever you do do the least of these, you do to Me.”
I realized that all along I had been washing the Hands of God, that were Hidden in Davids Hands.
My Heart is Energized by this Beautiful Understanding and Encounter and It Impels me to Seek Out Those who Most Need Kindness and Care.
May we all Wash the Hands of God in One Another,
Gabriel Orion Marie