When Something Bad Becomes Good, Becomes Very Good

Apart from the crystalline beauty of a first snow, the surprising October storm brought upheaval to large swaths of the Northeast, more even than the formidable hurricane Irene did on her visit several months earlier. As these thoughts are being put to paper, the unrelenting, muffled growls of chain saws are rumbling in the near distance, and, of more concern, many thousands of households from New Jersey to Maine have neither the heat to warm themselves nor lighting to read these words.

This is the story of an elderly woman in Lexington, a visiting nurse, and the staff and residents of Youville Place Assisted Living who came into her life (it seems fair to say, changed her life) when the aftermath of that late October storm made it clear she should not be alone. It is a story of how something bad can turn to good, and then to very good.

The woman, who asked that her name be withheld (we will call her Margaret), is in her mid 90s. Amazingly, Margaret has been living alone in her Lexington home for decades. Her closest relative is 3000 miles away on the west coast. Except for weekly visits from a nurse, a housekeeper, and weekday meals provided by Meals on Wheels, this valiant woman had been living alone. There is something all of us admire in that. Yet, in so many ways it is neither physically nor emotionally healthy. The visiting nurse was ever more aware that everyday needs like preparing food, bathing, and climbing stairs (in recent months, crawling up was accurate) were becoming increasingly more difficult for her. Still, she did all she could to honor Margaret’s wish to remain on her own at home.

The October storm changed things dramatically. Whereas I wouldn’t wish to ever characterize nature, even in its full fury, as bad, the resultant darkness and cold made a difficult existence overwhelmingly for this special woman. Understandably, she was frightened. Determined to assure Margaret’s safety and well being, the visiting nurse called Youville Place Assisted Living and asked if they had an emergency respite apartment available. Margaret, she clarified, would stay just until electricity and heat were restored to her house. During this time, Youville Place had also lost outside electricity and was running on internal generator power, and working under very challenging circumstances to meet the every day needs of residents.

Nevertheless, the leadership, staff and residents there welcomed Margaret with open arms–– at no cost, to an available furnished apartment. As is customary for all who live at Youville Place, the staff made a big fuss over her. She was offered a comfortable apartment, several warm meals, help with bathing and a steady, friendly barrage of “What can we do for you, Margaret?” For their part, it was yet another opportunity to live out the Youville values of reverence, integrity, dedication, and hospitality. For all involved, the bad had turned into something good.

While this is the story of a particular woman, a particular visiting nurse, and the staff at a particular place doing their best to respond after a furious display of nature, it has a universal quality about it. That is, there are many, many elders in this city and beyond, isolated from regular human contact and struggling to get by. So too, there are many skilled nurses who respond similarly everyday with expertise and empathy. Finally, while apathy and disengagement are all too commonplace in our world today, thankfully there are many individuals and organizations that, in their own way, would have reached out to this woman as did Youville Place.

There is one more twist to this story that would further change things. During her stay at Youville Place, in addition to being kept warm, nourished and otherwise physically cared for, Margaret’s eyes were opened to something she hadn’t known for many years. She felt a sense of being valued for who she was and, in contrast to the isolation she had known for too long, part of a welcoming community. A very important part of Margaret’s emotional self was being revived.

The following day the heat and electricity were restored in her house and a staff member at Youville Place brought her back and helped her readjust. Margaret once again resumed the familiar routine that had typified her life for too long. Yet, not unlike the October storm, something surprising happened. The next morning a call came into Youville Place. It was Margaret. She said that all that had just happened helped her to realize that she could no longer care for herself as in the past. What’s more, she had felt so welcomed and at home at Youville Place that she would like to become part of that community. It might be said that the October storm provided a wonderful opportunity for one woman to trade isolation and the overwhelming burdens of daily life, to live the remainder of her life in a safe, engaging, and caring environment. Something bad became good–– became very good. For Margaret, it’s only the beginning of this new phase of life.

Bob Short, Director of Mission & Pastoral Care