Uncovering the Unspoken, the Unseen

Uncovering the Unspoken, the Unseen

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


She arrived “kicking and screaming.” Displaying anger toward her attentive, adult children, she was not easy to approach. Neither they, nor the staff, were sure what to do.

It is not that we do not have a well-trained staff at Wicke Health Center; we have an excellent, caring staff. It’s that she had locked in a decision to never enter a long-term care facility. Nothing, in her mind, would allow her to reconsider.

However, both physical and real memory issues, mixed with confusion, made it unsafe and irresponsible to consider letting her go home to her apartment. Someone had to find a key to unlocking that decision. Somehow she had to feel that she “wanted” to do so.

Yet everyone, it seemed, was unsuccessful in helping her see the need for that inevitable change.

So when she was discharged from the hospital, the doctor sent her to Wicke for “rehabilitation.” She was suspicious of the doctor’s reason, but came anyway. Before she arrived, or shortly after, she asked her family if she would be going home soon. When told that she needed to stay long-term, the “kicking and screaming” increased.

The attitude continued unabated for about a week. It began to change when she told me she wished she were dead and that she was going to be angry until she was. As she told me this, I noticed something unexpected. There was a slight twinkle in her eye and the appearance of a smile. What was going on?

I suspected that if I asked directly, she would get defensive and accuse me of seeing things. So instead, I smiled a broad smile and said, “You know if you want me to take that comment seriously, I can’t do that when I see a smile or a twinkle.”

She smiled back, as if to say, “You caught me.” Before she said anything else, I said, “If you want to talk about why you are doing this, I’ll be glad to stay for that conversation. I suspect you’re feeling alone and frightened.”

Thankfully she said, “I would like to talk.” And so we did! Someone got it. Someone named the real issue. That was a most fruitful conversation. She is still not fully accepting of her situation, but she is less angry, becoming more involved in activities, and, I believe, on her way to becoming “a happy camper.”

Why? Because someone did not respond angrily or in panic, but calmly responded to the unspoken need, saw the unseen. Her anger was more about losing control of the situation, than it ever was about staying in long-term care. It was about the fear and loneliness associated with such a traumatic move. That’s a good thing to remember in working with or caring for an older adult, whose life is changing beyond her control. Listen for the unspoken. Dare to see the unseen. Then call attention to what you see and hear. It might be exactly the right approach.

Feel free to print or share with your congregation. © 2014 Rev. James Stinson