For the 37 years I’ve known the man who is my father-in-law, he’s been a people person, always ready to share his many stories with anyone and everyone. Several months ago he had a stroke that left the dominant side of his body useless. For a while, it seemed as if he was making progress and would recover, but slowly other things began to malfunction, too. Many people in the community expressed regret, and several asked if there was anything they could do to help. My consistent answer was, “Go visit him.” A few said they’d have to do that.
But only the pastor and a church friend of my mother-in-law ever came to visit, outside of the immediate family, and now it’s too late. My father-in-law has lost his ability to speak intelligibly. Needless to say, he is devastated! My mother-in-law tries to cope, but she doesn’t understand either.
I sit here and wonder how it is that a man who spent 45 years in this community, active is so many civic, social, and religious activities, warrants only two visitors outside of the family? It’s not like he’s 99 years old and all his friends and acquaintances are already dead. He touched so many lives through his music leadership and golf, and yet not a single one of them could take the time to visit. Or even call, or send a card. Why is this? What is it about people who aren’t out in our world that scares us? Or is it just that we would be inconvenienced if we made the effort to stop by? Are we really that callous?
Yes, I think we are that callous, and we don’t like to be inconvenienced. I see it in the work place, in the schools, in our churches. We talk about including people with all kinds of developmental disabilities, and we make room for them in our churches, in our schools, and in our work places. But that’s where it ends. We do not befriend them, we do not socialize with them. We do not care about them. And, unless they are our dear personal friends, we do not visit them when they are sick, when they are home-bound, or when they have lost a loved one.
We excuse ourselves by contending we don’t know what to say. Rubbish! (I’d say something stronger, but this is in print…) When will we get off our high horses and join the human race? If we were the ones sitting in our chairs with only the TV for comfort day in and day out, would we not wish for a visit from someone we knew? Would we not feel bitter that the relationships we had now seemed to mean absolutely nothing to the people we thought were our friends? Sure we would!
So, what are we going to do about it? Claim we’re too busy? Hang onto the belief that we don’t know what to say? Just keep putting off our good intentions until it’s too late? If we do, we’ll be just like everyone else. Can we live with that? If we are the ones who becomes unable to do things, will we be absolutely forgiving of all those friends who could stop by but just don’t? Will we understand how they must feel, and graciously accept that we are forgotten – at least until our funeral when people will have no end of complimentary things to say about us?
I want all of you, my readers, to think long and hard about this. Obviously, I have, and I’m just as obviously angry. I feel hurt and betrayed by the people who were his colleagues, his co-workers, his students, his golfing partners, and his friends. No one would have to speak a single word; just their presence would bring a world of cheer to a man who feels so alone and helpless. I urge you to GO. Go visit, even for ten minutes. I won’t kill you, and you’ll bring a wealth of emotional healing to the person you visit, which is something no medicine can do. Go. Go. Go. GO!