Accepting Communication As It Comes

Accepting Communication As It Comes

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


She had beautiful red hair, wore stylish clothes, and had a certain assurance about her. When younger, she would cause heads to turn, a stereotypical “looker.” Everything about her emitted the sense that her life was in order. In addition, she was always pleasant and had many friends. She raised a capable and productive family to whom she was very close. 

Not all at once, but piece by piece, all of that came apart. She began getting lost in her own neighborhood. Her clothes looked less stylish, and sometimes mismatched. She was not always pleasant. One thing her family noticed was her bed, which had always been perfectly made, frequently began to be left unmade. Gradually, people noticed slippage in her mental state. Her sweetness was not quite as it once was. Her ability to follow a conversation had noticeably gone AWOL. In no time at all, she had become unraveled, physically and mentally.

And so it was that on a recent visit, I found her speaking in fragments, no longer able to form complete sentences. Her mind was back in the home where she had raised her family, even while her body was in a strange new place, a facility designed to deal with such a situation.

It struck me that her communication and conversation was totally fragmented. It came in pieces, jumping from one thought to another. It must have been difficult for her. She had to struggle to say what she wanted. She became ever more frustrated as did her family.

Someone suggested that visitors not call attention to this change, but go with the fragmented sentences and thought processes as if it was a normal thing. Those who did so discovered the possibility of delightful interactions to which they accustomed. When allowed to wander in her conversation, her anxiety level improved and before long she seemed the same person she always had been. She felt free to express herself in a way that suited her ability. She was able to do that because she was being accepted as she was. She did not have to measure up to standards. She was free to be herself. 

That’s valuable lesson for anyone in ministry to, and with, an older adult. Let the person express the self, no matter how she does it, no matter how slow, how faltering. The goal is not to converse with an ideal, but rather with a real live human being. Only then can effective ministry occur. Allow the fragments to be experienced as a part of the person sitting in front of you, rather than finishing his thoughts for him.