“What if your neighbor asked you to take 20 minutes one night to help him? Would you do it? Most decent people would. But what if he asked you every night following, with no end in sight? Would you be willing to do it? … When would serving your neighbor feel more like servitude?”
That is the question a group of men had to ask themselves when they united to serve their neighbor Kathy, who suffers from the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis. For the past seven years they have lifted Kathy into bed at night. In doing so they have lifted her spirit, as well as their own.
Kathy was diagnosed after 16 years of marriage. She assumed her husband would face the challenge with her. He decided he could not and filed for divorce. When her sons grew up, they had to come to her house every night and morning to help her in and out of bed. The work became too much for them to do alone.
A group of 50 men—friends, neighbors, and church members—offered to help. Every night, two of them come to get the bedtime routine rolling. They pull off her slippers, adjust her pillows, charge her wheelchair, and place pills on the nightstand. Then they lift her into bed. At first, the men felt awkward about the procedure and burdened by the responsibility.
“I felt sympathetic to the situation, but I felt like ‘You know, I’ve got other things I need to deal with,’” one explains.
The group discussed how they could help Kathy without having to visit her every night. One of the men said that if the others didn’t want to help, he would do it himself if he had to. That caused a change in attitude among the group. Kathy’s heart has also been touched and changed as a result of the service.
“I have seen an even greater compassion. It’s let me know that I’m not forgotten, that I’m still valued, not only to God, but I have worth to give other people in different ways,” she says.
What can you do for someone today?
What if your neighbor asked you to take 20 minutes one night to help him? Would you do it? Most decent people would.
But what if he asked you every night following, with no end in sight? Would you be willing to do it? At what point would helping become an irritant? When would serving your neighbor feel more like servitude?
This is a story about Kathy, and it takes place over 3,000 nights, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It has been going on for over seven years. And it's changed the life of ordinary folk like me.
To be brutally honest, it was a hard thing for me to be excited about. It was more of a burden than anything.
I was in Dr. Nord's office--my neurologist--and he proceeded to tell me I had multiple sclerosis. And I looked at my husband and I said, "Did you just hear what the doctor said?" It's documented proof that I am one in a million.
We'd been married 16 and 1/2 years. I assumed my husband was OK with it. And I think that it may have been too much in his mind, thinking things were going to get worse.
It hurt tremendously. Throughout the divorce proceedings, I went from walking with one cane to having two canes. And then I had to use a wheelchair.
Kathy has lived in this home and in this neighborhood for a long time. In order to stay in her home, she had to have help getting in bed at night.
She wasn't able to get out of her wheelchair and put herself into bed.
Her boys carried the burden prior to us coming in full-time and lifting her into bed. And it just became a lot of work for her boys.
They would come in the mornings and help her out of bed. We got together as friends, neighbors, and a Church group. We told her that we were here and that we had 40 or 50 men who were willing to come in.
Every single night, night after night.
Helping Kathy into bed itself--it's a little bit weird.
It was awkward.
You know, I'm kind of phobic around sick people. At first I'm kind of like, "Eh." I think that's why I was so stiff.
And when they said, "Just toss her," I'm like, "OK." And of course we're not supposed to do it that way, because she went about halfway across the room and bounced in her bed. So it's not just throwing somebody into bed and saying, "See ya." There's a process to it.
Two guys from the neighborhood arrive at the door.
Get her mail. Ring the doorbell. She yells to come on in.
And she always wants to talk with you.
Kathy will talk your ear off.
Kathy knows how to talk.
You can't have a short conversation with Kathy.
You walk down the hall down to her bedroom.
Get the bed ready.
Pull off her slippers.
You have to choose a side you want to be on.
Each of us put a hand behind her back and underneath her legs, and we just lock wrists.
Then lift straight up, move forward, and then dance around the chair a little bit.
Try to gently set her into bed. And then the fun begins.
She's very particular about how she has got to be set up in that bed.
And then you have to sit Kathy up, move the pillows 100 different times, lay her back down.
When it looks like she couldn't be more uncomfortable, that's when you got the thumbs-up and everything was OK.
Then the fun part starts of parking the motorized wheelchair.
You make sure that she's got her phone.
We position her canes so she can use them to reposition herself at night.
She'll have her water, some pills.
Make sure that the wheelchair's plugged in.
Turn off the lights and lock the door.
And you're done.
We were approached that we would maybe have a two- or three-month assignment.
I felt sympathetic to the situation. But I felt like, "I've got other things I need to deal with."
First of all, it's "Oh, I don't have the time and--"
"How long can I last?"
"When is the end? How long are we going to have to be doing this? Can't we get a lift in there?" And at church we'd talk about this assignment. And it was the topic all the time, largely brought up by me, by others in our group that were being asked to do it all the time.
We all tried to think of different ways that we could help Kathy get into bed without us having to come over every single night.
It was a burden, to be honest. In those discussions, one person in particular said, "You know, I don't see an end in the foreseeable future. Even if we get her a lift, she can't put herself in the lift.
That's not an answer to the problem." He said, "If you're not willing to do it and if there's those who are not willing to do it, I will do it myself every night if I have to." And so really, it's at that time when I think I had a change of heart,when I had to take a look at myself, my own spirituality, my own conviction. I was nowhere near where I should have been, and I decided to change.
I had a man in that kind of had the same attitude that I had, that "this has got to be a quick thing, and I've got other things, and I'm busy." I remember he got really quiet when we went in and lifted her into bed. And I remember we came out front. Big, burly guy just in tears as he left the home.
He turned around and he voiced at me. He said, "I can't believe that I thought that this was a burden."
You got to realize, too, that I started to get to know Kathy. She's taken such an interest in my family.
He can come and he lifts me into the bed by himself.
It's kind of driven me to be able to stay fit and stay strong for Kathy. When I go to the gym I do dead lifts, but I call them "Kathy-lifts."
At first I felt I was taking them away from their families. I didn't want to be a burden. And I honestly didn't think it would last for very long. And I thought it would just be maybe 10 times and then we were done.
It's been going on for over seven years. When I come over now, it's just like tucking one of my own kids into bed. Ifeel like she's part of my family now. And I ask her if we could say a family prayer as we put her into bed before we left.
Well, you have a good night.
It's interesting, the dichotomy between healing the body and healing the soul. When we heal the body, it's always an inward effort. We're always paying attention to ourselves. When we heal the soul, turning inward doesn't work. And the triage of the soul is found in turning outward to other people. Every time I've gone to Kathy's home and dealt with her, it feels like it heals a part of my soul.
Really, it's genius how Christ has laid this out for us. As one helps the other, the other helps the other back.
I've seen an even greater compassion. It's let me know that I'm not forgotten, that I'm still valued not only to God, but I have worth to give other people in different ways.
You know, I was at a point where I was at my lowest and just feeling like I wasn't maybe worth anything or I was falling short. I needed healing. And that's what service does. It heals us.
She's lifted me in so many ways. This was that opportunity to serve one of His children. I never realized what that meant until I had this experience of lifting Kathy.
The more we serve our fellowmen in appropriate ways, the more substance there is to our souls. We become more substantive as we serve others--indeed, it's easier to find ourselves because there's so much more of us to find.