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Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Listening is Hearing More than the Words - Eleanor Shepherd
is more than hearing the words. I was
reminded of that again last week, when I was working as a Chaplain in a
residence for seniors. I was passing through a lounge on my way to my office. One of the residents, a woman who is blind
was reclining in one of the large lounge chairs.
the only person in the room. Hearing my
footsteps, she called out, "Can anyone help me?"
beside her chair, I asked, "What would you like, Miss Smith?"
am I?" She asked.
are in the lounge." I responded.
some reason I sensed that I should go further.
that the answer you were looking for?" I queried.
hesitated a minute and then said, "No."
do you want to know?" was my
want to know where my brother and sister are." I knew immediately that this was her real
something clicked for me. This woman
must ask the staff members of our residence at least ten times every day,
"Where am I?"
usually responds by giving her the name of the residence. I have never been
sure that was what she wanted to know.
in the dining room she asked me where she was.
I responded by asking her where she thought she was. Her response immediately was the name of the
residence. She knew all the time. What
she did not know was how to ask the questions she really wanted to ask. "
What has happened to everyone who belongs to me? Where have they all gone? Am I now alone in this world?"
that she has been trying to reorient herself to her current situation. When she
asks, " Where am I? " she wants to know her context. She wants to
know where her place is in the world.
likely defined herself by her relationships, as we often do. However, these days there is no concrete
evidence that these relationships are intact.
She is not aware if the relationships are still valid for her as she is
unaware and unable to read any correspondence with her siblings. "Where are they for her?" She may
be asking herself. If they have gone
somewhere why have they not taken her with them?
heard her question I tried to give an honest answer, so I told her that I did
not know where her brother and sister were, but I would try to find out.
"Will you? " she asked.
her that I would do my best to try and find out, her relief that she might be
able to get answers to her questions was visible in the way that the tension
seemed to dissipate from her body as she leaned back in her recliner.
as I had a few minutes available I headed for the nursing office where the
records are kept to see what information I could find out about Miss Smith's
family. The only clue I could come across was that the contact person for her
was a nice living in another province. I
jotted down the phone number of the niece, so I could give her a call and find
out about Miss Smith's siblings.
the afternoon Miss Smith remained in her large reclining chair dozing. However,
at one time when I was passing by.
Hearing my voice she cried out, "You are the one who is going to
help me, aren't you."
Miss Smith," I assured her. I will
do everything I can to get this information for you." Content, she settled back in her chair.
reflected on our conversations, I was so glad that I had been able to ask her
if I was really answering the question that she was asking. It opened the door for genuine dialogue that
may help all of us to become more sensitive to her real needs ad those who in
our home are living out similar reorientation of their lives. That is why institutions like ours exist to
help people to make sense of life when much of what they have known and loved
is gone, and to know they still have a place and are valued. Crucial to that is
to hear more than the words.