Yesterday I behaved in a way that makes me ashamed of myself. Someone reached out to me for a nonjudgmental, caring touch, and I pulled away. I don’t want to make excuses, but here’s the story:
Once a month, my friend and I work in the memory care wing of a nursing home. One of the residents, “Agnes,” has. Been there since we started two years ago. She never wants a massage, but she does want to say hello. She regularly peppers her language with cursing and insults. Example:
“Hello Agnes. How are you today?”
“Shaddup ya c***.”
Recently, she has taken to spitting at people to get their attention. She does this with a noisy warm up, so most of the time we can cut her off with a simple, “Agnes, please don’t spit on me right now.”
Every time we see her, we ask her if she wants a massage. She always says no. We try to sneak in a little bit of caring touch. She will let us hold her hand for a few seconds, and sometimes even lets us rub her shoulder. Agnes has surprisingly strong and sharp nails for a woman her age, though, and after a few seconds of hand-holding, she will rake one against our fingers — hard. I am ashamed to say that I am always cautious when holding her hand. She has nearly drawn blood a couple of times.
Yesterday, she was letting me hold her hand, and even put both her hands around mine. Quite suddenly, she pulled down on my hand, and by instinct I pulled away. When I looked int her eyes, she looked devastated.
I immediately bent down and gently hugged her and laid my head on top of hers. She has never
accepted so much touch from me. Still, I knew that I had rejected her when she was most vulnerable. She tried to pull me closer, and I pulled away. I tell myself that I am on a mission to bring human touch to those who need it, to show people that age and infirmity should not exclude you from the world of warmth and connection. In that moment, though, I failed myself. Every time I see Agnes, I will try to make it up to her.