Monday, November 18, 2013


“Adsum,” which means “I am present,” is nearly the only Latin I remember from college and grad school. But it’s a phrase that’s often popped into my mind of late. Being there, being truly present to a situation, problem, or a moment of distress, is sometimes all we can do.

At our house, we have had our share of Family Drama lately. No need to elaborate -- anyone with children, either small or grown, knows about Family Drama.  With adult children come situations beyond a parent's control. We sympathize (most of the time), we offer emotional support, we try to wait patiently until the crisis passes. We bite our tongues and sit on our hands. We live with uncertainty, and with the knowledge that there are no guarantees in life. Problems may not be resolved as we would have them resolve.  And now and then, they are not resolvable.  It is a hard fear to live with. At times, all we can do is be present and wait. Adsum.

As a hospice volunteer with the frail elderly, I have learned many good lessons about waiting. My current patient (let's call her "Annie"), is 93, and suffers from general debility and dementia. She can no longer speak.  There are no "typical" visits. One Sunday, Annie may be alert, smiling, interested in those around her. She may wave and blow kisses to the nursing-home staff as they pass by, or take my face into her palms and stroke my cheek. The next Sunday, when I arrive after church, she may be sound asleep.While she sleeps, I sit quietly, holding her hand. I would not disturb her for the world. Adsum.

Recently, I have found Annie somewhat agitated. Yesterday, seated in her room, she was clearly unhappy. In her troubled eyes, I could see frustration and anger. Eventually, Annie began to cry, deep unhappy sobs. The nurse on duty, having determined that Annie was not in physical distress, promised to come right back and to help her back into bed for a nap. In the meantime, there we sat, hand in hand, as I stroked her back.  There was nothing I could do but share her misery. There was no "quick fix"; there are only inadequate words of comfort when distress is so profound.

Waiting with others through their distress seems to have become a familiar pattern for me.


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