Jesus’ love for us means he knows us better than we know ourselves. (I don’t know how many hairs are on my head, for example.) I have been a hospice volunteer since 2009, and have seen the kind of love that grows from intimacy and familiarity. When I began volunteering, I worked in a nursing home where I got to know a number of patients well because they were on the hospice list for a while, defying the odds.
Take “Evie”: she was ninety-eight, and Alzheimer’s had taken her ability to speak. She’d say “mmm-mmm-mmm” in variations of tone, and she could respond to questions by nod or headshake. I didn’t know what she was saying, but I knew how she felt about whatever it was. “Tell me about your family,” I’d say—and she’d answer mm-mmm-mm. “You had brothers?” Nod. “Sisters?” Headshake. “Did you like having brothers?” Nod, then headshake. Our weekly visits lasted for months.
In Far From the Tree, a book about unusual children ranging from the severely autistic to geniuses, Andrew Solomon says parents care for their children because they love them, and they love them because they care for them. So, too, with volunteers: we come to love our patients because we care for them. We don’t expect them to love us. Yet sometimes they do. Evie’s clear sentence had been an act of love.
The aides at the home had known Evie when she could still speak, so they knew that she loved clothes. One day, I wore a new red sweater. Evie didn’t say mmm-mmm. She said, “You look great!” Then she reverted to mmm.