They sit there, lining the room, some restlessly, others contentedly, some awake and alert, others sleeping or nodding off – but all waiting.
From time to time, a newcomer arrives. Everyone looks and listens. Who is this? What are they here for? Where will they sit? The newcomer finds a seat and joins the group – the Waiting Ones.
Someone takes another person’s seat. That is not allowed. There is tension, friction, an argument until one is evicted. Then peace again – and the waiting resumes.
Someone leaves the room. Everyone watches. Where are they going? Will they come back? The others wait.
One lady is restless. She keeps leaving her seat. She walks around the room, then sits on another seat. She asks the person beside her: ‘What are we waiting for?’ If she doesn’t get an answer, she moves on to another person and asks the same question: ‘What are we waiting for?’
It’s a good question. What are they waiting for, these Waiting Ones?
Who are they? Where are they? They are residents of an old people’s home. They have come from all walks of life, they have all a wealth of experience behind them, years lived out, lessons learned, stories to share, children and grandchildren and great grandchildren to love – but many of them can no longer communicate in a way which others understand.
Many have physical problems and failing memories. They rely on others now for so many things – these people who were so strong, so independent, so successful. Now they must depend on others for even basic needs – and that is so humiliating. Sometimes they will try to do something on their own – and the resulting failure is even more demoralising.
Some of them find friendship in the home. Two ladies have become firm friends. One is almost blind, the other is forgetful. When one needs the bathroom, they go together – the blind lady following her friend, calling out to her: ‘Don’t go too fast!’. When it’s mealtime, they are assigned to different dining rooms (one in the ‘Nursing wing’, the other in the ‘Residential wing’). They don’t like being separated. They ask the carers who have come to take them: ‘Why can’t we go together?’ Then they kiss and promise to meet up again in the lounge after the meal.
Others don’t seem to look for friendship. They sit alone; they sleep or they stare into space; sometimes they moan quietly. What are they thinking? What are they remembering? What are they feeling?
Many have dementia which is robbing them of their memories, their ability to think, to express themselves, to do anything without help. Their world is shrinking. It is a frightening place.
Carers talk to them and they don’t understand; people talk around them and they are confused – are you talking to me? who are you? who am I? where am I? what am I waiting for?
And now it’s not only the next event that is in question – are we waiting for dinner or are we waiting for the hairdresser? Now it’s a whole new question: what are we waiting for? Why are we here? We are the Waiting Ones – but are we also the Forgotten Ones?
Has God forgotten us? This is a waiting room filled with people who loved and served God all their lives. Now they wait…..and wait….and wait. Most of them just want to have the waiting over, to get to go home to heaven, to have done with the failed memories and the aching limbs and the eyes that don’t see and the ears that don’t hear. Has God forgotten them?
Why doesn’t He take them home?
We don’t know the answer to that – God knows we ask it often enough.
What we do know, we have to cling to, now more than ever:
1. God loves all of His children, including the most vulnerable: ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.’ Matthew 10:29-31.
2. God’s Holy Spirit ministers to our spirits, even when other faculties are gone: ‘You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God’.
3. God has promised not to forget us: ‘But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.’ Isaiah 49:14-16.
4. What we suffer here on earth – the things that make our hearts ache and our minds question – are nothing compared to what God has promised us for eternity: ‘So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.’ II Corinthians 4:16-18.
So keep on visiting the people in the Waiting Room. Let them know you have not forgotten them. Remind them that God has not forgotten them. And you will see – just now and again – a glimmer of hope, a glimpse of what might be going on.
When an old hymn is sung, they can’t see the words, they can’t make a noise, but their lips begin to move…..and they know every word. They get choked with emotion as the Spirit ministers to their spirit.
When their favourite Psalm is read, they have not responded in any way for hours – but they open their eyes for a moment and smile as the Spirit ministers to their spirit.
Cling to these glimpses and keep going, keep believing – for these may be the Waiting Ones, but they are not forgotten.