Every time I go to visit Ellen, it is like walking into a small Catholic oasis in the middle of the convalescent hospital. She has been there a while, and has collected many things, but the first thing you notice when you walk into her room is Catholic radio lightly playing in the background. I usually come around three, so it is usually the soft chanting of the rosary.
She is a light to all everyone there, and has almost become the matron of the facility. Many of the patients either do not have their full mental faculties anymore, or have reached such depression that they simply do not care to engage anyone at all. It makes me sad to be one of the few visitors to our forgotten elders, but I am always gladdened by their smiles and exceptional courage.
Ellen is usually in the recreation room when I get there, playing bingo, (She is always leaning over the table, helping everyone else find their numbers so intensely that she forgets to check her own) making cookies, playing cards, you name it. She keeps herself pretty busy.
If I can tell she is having a good time, I like to sneak in and let her continue. I know if she sees me, she’ll stop right away and rush off, deep with concern that she might inconvenience me by taking to long getting her wheelchair down the hall. Eventually she will see me and the girls, and away we go.
We bring all the Catholic patients into her room for our little service because it is simply the most welcoming place in the hospital. We have our little communion service while everyone tries to stay awake, but Ellen is eager. She is still learning the new responses and is always excited at the chance to use them. She hates being disconnected, but she really cannot safely leave.
After the service, my daughters slowly wheel everyone back to their rooms or where ever they want to go while I stay with Ellen to talk for a little. My favorite part of the visit is always the list.
The list is an epic adventure we go through every visit. All week long as she is reading the bible, listening to the radio and reading her devotionals, she comes up with questions and writes them on the list. “Why is Melchizedek so important? What is a signal grace? What does Jesus mean when he says you have to hate your father and mother?” They are not easy questions, and she wants real answers. It’s like my own little theology test every week.
Our prayers are most often the same, as she has deep concerns for her family. She really wants one of her granddaughters to become a nun, she prays that another will find her way back to the Church. She forgives the family that haven’t called in years.
She knows my wife’s name though she has never been able to come, so she can pray for our whole family. She remembered gifts for my children for Christmas. She asks for pamphlets and rosaries to help other folks in the hospital.
By the time I leave, she has had so much excitement that she needs to lie down and put back on her oxygen mask to take a nap.