I have lived on my particular block, a long and winding street, since 1963. I know my close neighbors and I have also connected with the parents on the block whose children were close in age to my own. Others I have met through church and various parish organizations. These friends and neighbors have been wonderful, adding richness to my life.
A few years ago I learned that one neighbor, Peggy, had moved to an assisted living facility. She had been recently widowed, and as her two daughters worked full-time, they were unable to provide for her the help she needed. I sent her a note to wish her well and we began a long-distance correspondence. Occasionally she would call me to chat, and I learned that her deep faith was sustaining her as she began to lose her independence. I kept writing because she said she loved to receive mail, that it brightened her day. It made me happy to know that I was able to bring some sunshine into her life, which was now certainly more confined than it had ever been.
Eventually Peggy was transferred to a long-term care facility. Then Covid hit. Peggy has not been able to receive visitors since March 2020. Undoubtedly, this has been very difficult for her. The occasional “window visits” offer just so much solace. I have continued to write to her, hoping to offer an additional connection to the outside world. Even a visit from the mailman has the ability to offer comfort—I know that this is true for me.
Throughout this ordeal, we have maintained phone contact. At first, Peggy would call once a day; the calls were friendly, sometimes conversational, and always light and pleasant. It became clear to me that she was calling to check on me and my family to be sure we were all right. She knew that both my husband and I had been very ill with Covid, and that our son had been our primary caregiver. The call would always start with, “How are you?” Then she would ask about my husband and the rest of the family, including the grandchildren. She had become the consummate and loving caregiver via the telephone.
During those brief calls, I learned a lot about Peggy. She accepted her situation, expressing gratitude for the care she was receiving. She spoke of being thankful for her family, her friends, and her faith. Her loving acceptance of her difficult situation (who wants to be in a nursing home?) was inspiring. It really was a joy to get to know her on a deeper and more personal level. We even discovered that we attended the same high school! Over the course of the many telephone calls, we came to know something of each other, and I hope it brought her as much pleasure as it did me. In fact, one day Peggy said to me, “I wish I had known you all my life.” Needless to say, it gladdened me to hear such kind words.
But as Peggy’s calls continued, it became evident to me that my friend was becoming a bit more confused. She would repeat herself on more than one occasion, even stating that she feared her memory was failing her. Then the calls started coming two, three, even four times a day. One day she rang me five times, each time asking if she had already called, and yet each call was filled with concern for me and my family. Actually, I didn’t mind the calls. I was fully aware that the telephone was her only real connection to the outside world, and I was glad to provide an occasion for her to bond with a friend.
As I reflect on this situation with Peggy, I begin to see a real parallel to my relationship with God. So often God connects with me, reminding me that his love and care is ever present in my life. He has sent me a loving family, wonderful and supportive friends, marvelous physicians, and countless other gifts, all an indication of his boundless love for me. He “calls” again and again. He is persistent in his care for me even as Peggy is persistent. The thought overwhelms me with a feeling of immense gratitude. Our God truly is a God of surprises, revealing himself in so many unique ways. This means that we must strive to be introspective, mindful of those moments when he is endeavoring to connect with us lest we miss the opportunity to hear his voice.
Peggy remains in the nursing home, still restricted by the pandemic. Our notes and phone calls continue, and I love the opportunity I have to brighten her days. I am not sure she understands how much joy she brings to me in return. She inspires me with her unfailing faith in a loving God, no matter how much she wishes her circumstances were different, and says that she is ready for her room in heaven whenever it is prepared. Now I anticipate her frequent phone calls and I look forward to our brief but loving interactions. I wish I had known her all my life.
Anne Kerrigan is a registered nurse, mother of five, and grandmother of nine. She also has a master’s degree in theology and is the winner of the Australasian Religious Press Association Silver Award in Excellence for “Best Faith Reflection.” She is in the process of writing her memoir. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.