Accepting the Request to “Go Home”

Accepting the Request to “Go Home”

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


Hattie died the other day.

At 95 years of age, her last spoken word was, “I want to go home!” Her daughter leaned over to her and said, “Mom, it’s okay to go home. We’ll be okay here. Go home!”

It was a poignant moment, followed very shortly by Hattie’s last breath. It was especially poignant because she had lived at the Bishop Wicke Health Center for the last two years. During that time, every conversation with Hattie began and ended with, “I want to go home. Why can’t I go home?”

No amount of comforting, no heroic efforts to help her feel at home worked for long. She might settle down for a while and enjoy her surroundings, seemingly participating in the events all around her. But the peace never lasted for long. Despite the fact that her family was very supportive of her, some members were there every day, she still felt like a stranger.

I often thought of the words, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home.” I often try to relate to that sense of lost–ness and aloneness. It is a sense of many as they age. The ones who meant the most to them have often died, leaving a void. Their abilities—physically and mentally often have decreased, their spirituality often has changed as questions begin to outweigh the traditional answers to which they have grown accustomed. It is a strange land. It doe not feel like home. Hattie’s plaintive cries to “let me go home” are the cries of many people as they advance in age.

The challenge is to hear those cries as real, not just the ramblings of “a confused old person.” The challenge is to grow comfortable listening to these cries, allowing one self to feel empathy with the one expressing such feelings. The need to speak of these things aloud is very real, as is the need for someone to listen.

As those who minister to/with older adults this is especially challenging. We so want to “fix” what is hurting someone. We want the pain to go away. In fact, our work is not about “fixing” anyone, correcting what we see as imperfections, or as too negative. Our task is to listen empathetically, not always offering answers, but rather offering tenderness and caring.

In my daily ministry, I’ve seen pastors, family members, and other caregivers negate the older person’s real feelings. “You’re just being foolish,” “You don’t really mean that.” “I get upset when you talk that way.”

We are called to be present to those to whom we minister. We can witness to our faith and hope by truly listening. When someone knows they have been heard, spiritual healing begins to take place. People who feel accepted for who they are and what they feel often become less focused on their “own issues,’ becoming more engaged in what is going on around them. People who know they have been heard feel like they belong, feel like they are home.

Like Hattie, there are days when I just want to go home, figuratively and literally. That is not a negative thought in and of itself. It is a simple statement of need—need for a place and for people who allow me to say and be who I am—need for home.

Thank you, Hattie, for reminding of a better way to be in ministry with older adults.

Feel free to print or share with your congregation. © 2012 Rev. James Stinson