All four beds in the room were empty as I entered, but three of the bedside chairs were occupied. Two of the patients were sleeping so I approached the lady by the window, introduced myself as the chaplain, and asked if she would like a chat.
As we began to talk the lady behind me awoke, clearly in some distress, but for that time my focus was on Mrs A in front of me. We continued to talk – despite the cries of “help me, help me” coming from behind – and she clearly appreciated the company. Then, after a short prayer, I said goodbye and turned to the lady behind me, Mrs J.
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself”, she reprimanded, as she told me of her father who had been a Rector for many years. “He would never have ignored me like that”.
This did not bode well but I apologised and said that I had been speaking to Mrs A but was here for her now if she would like to talk.
For the next ten minutes I didn’t say a word as she opened up about the loss of her father, her husband’s dementia, her stroke which had robbed her of much of her sight, balance and independence. Even as the nurse came to change the bedsheet next to us I made a conscious effort to ignore her and kept my gaze locked on Mrs J.
After a while she apologised for taking up my time and asked if I would pray for her so I did and then left, amazed by the encounter and by the way her attitude towards me had completely changed without me saying a word.
As I first approached her I didn’t feel I had anything to offer, but in that moment what she really needed, and what I was able to give, was the gift of attention. The gift of another person’s undivided attention, that is truly a gift of grace.