The Kindness of Strangers
On my way to my parent’s house this Sunday, I called my mom to tell her I was picking Dad up a little earlier because it had been very crowded at Mass lately. She said, “Ok…but just so you know, we’re having a rough morning.”
My voice lowered and I said, “Ok, Mom…what am I in for?”
She replied, “It’s just going to be a rough day.”
He seemed confused when I arrived. He hasn’t known who I was for some time, other than that I’m the nice lady who helps him at church. But today, I’m not sure he remembered even that. And as oddly as his brain works now, he’s usually able to complete a thought, but as we drove to church, he could only speak in short phrases losing his train of thought midway through each try at forming a sentence.
As successful as we’d become with the rituals of the Catholic Church, I sensed that today would be a good day to sit with the older handicapped people and ask the Eucharistic minister to bring the Eucharist to us. Given his confusion, the idea of navigating the pews and the lines of people during Communion, holding people up so that I can show Dad how to take the Eucharistic—it all seemed like it would be too hard on both of us, not to mention everyone else.
Little did I know that Communion would be the least of my worries. On this particular Sunday, he couldn’t remember anything about the Mass.
I explained it all loudly, so he could hear me, and in great detail. People turned and watched. “Dad, put down the song sheet and turn around and shake this nice lady’s hand now.” “Dad, hold my hand so we can say the Our Father together.” “Dad, move your foot so I can put down the kneeler.” “It’s time to kneel now, Dad. See? See how everyone is kneeling? “Let’s make the sign of the cross, Dad. Watch me and do exactly what I do.”
The hospitality minister was having a rough morning, too—challenged juggling all the needs in our area—but he finally managed to tag two Eucharistic ministers for us.
Communion was over, the music had stopped and the congregation, about 1,200 people, kneeled in quiet prayer. As the two ministers headed our way bearing a gold-rimmed chalice and a shiny silver bowl, I noticed that the lady behind me was signaling me—a lovely woman in her late 60s with bright eyes, a stylish haircut and a crisp red suit.
“Do you need Communion brought to you, too?” I whispered, trying not to disrupt the congregation’s prayerful moment.
She shook her head silently, held my eyes for a moment, then signaled for me to continue. I leaned over to the minister, and whispered to Dad, “Watch me and do exactly what I do.”
He didn’t seem to understand. Dad would hate to call attention to himself, but I knew he would hate to mess up the Body and Blood of Christ even more. So, I said it again, loudly, and many people turned toward us, their silence disturbed. I pretended not to notice, took the bread and then the wine, and he followed my lead. His hands shook when he took the chalice, so all three of us helped him. The ministers moved on, the music began and the congregation turned away, rising in song.
The lady in red tapped my shoulder. I turned around and she said, “Is that your dad?”
I could only nod to her in response.
She looked into my eyes, the brown irises of her own as big as the earth and wet with tears, and she said, “You’re a good daughter.”
I rarely cry. And I never cry in public.
Tears spat out of my eyes. She reached over and hugged me. My chest heaved. I dropped my forehead onto her shoulder and sobbed for a few moments, then said, “It’s so hard.”
We turned away from each other and joined the church in the closing song. In the crowds after Mass was over, I lost her. But in that moment, we bonded. As though the lady in red were a close friend or relative—someone who knew me and loved me deeply.
As only two people can bond when a stranger reaches out to another during a fragile moment.
dementia brain injury my father Dad family Catholicism daily life