Human suffering

I have run into a couple people in my life who have given me pause to think “just what should one do?”

One most recently was an old woman named Judi.

Judi lived in an apartment about 10 minutes away, and since I have gone to visit elderly folks when they have no visitors, I was contacted that she would be a good person to visit, as she was in the advanced stages of emphysema and was pretty desperate for someone to read to her, speak with her.

I was also warned that she was a pretty tough lady.

The family that contacted me was the wife of her brother who lived 45 minutes away and could not visit her for the distance.

I visited with her once, by way of introduction from her sister in law. Though she was on oxygen, it was apparent by the smell of her apartment that she was still smoking. She was receiving the largest amount of oxygen that is prescribable.

Shortly thereafter I came to visit her to read. When I came to her, she first asked me to load about 20 oxygen tanks into her apartment and load out the old ones. I am young but this was a small task, I couldn’t imagine how she could handle it on her own. I read to her briefly, spoke about the story, read another and spoke. Then I thought I would try to get her to open up a little bit about herself so we could get to know each other. I learned that she had 3 kids, had worked as a meat packer, had wanted to be a nurse but couldn’t for the schooling she didn’t have.

The trouble I always have when I go visiting is that people have a hard time shutting off their TV sets. Since we don’t keep it on as background noise, and when I listen to the radio, I usually actually listen, I haven’t found a good way to get people to turn off their sets.

She didn’t really want to talk about herself. She asked me my job, I told her I was an ESL teacher, and she began to propound to me in her racism about how people who were not white were causing the deterioration of our world. This was hard to stomach.

Our visit lasted only about 45 minutes, but I could tell she deeply appreciated the time.

In a phone call to her sister in law, C, I was told that she is getting some strange ideas in her head about her neighbors. Judi was afraid of her neighbors and thought they were going to try to do her in and that they were bad people. I figured I could steer clear of this. I asked C why none of her children took an interest in her. C told me that Judi had estranged her kids because she had been an alcoholic. C said, which was already amply apparent, that Judi has carried alot of anger with her in her life. The kids felt her anger and no doubt the alcoholism wreaked havoc on that relationship, leaving the kids in a sort of place where to keep their sanity, they stayed away. I can understand that.

I learned that Judi was likely to come to a person on her knees desperate, then turn against the person who was offering the charity, help and love she needed. Judi was a mess.

I say was because Judi died about a month ago.

Shortly after I visited her, and I had agreed to get her medicine (which she never called me to do), I got a call at about 11 pm at night from C the sister in law saying that Judi was having a medical emergency and needed someone to call 911 for her. Never mind the obvious, that they themselves should call 911, I was close so I called 911. Later I was told that they didn’t want to call 911 because they were afraid they would be billed for it (C was).

I scurried over to Judi’s where she could hardly breathe and was taking deep breaths of oxygen from her tank. We talked about what were going to do for her. She was irrational, couldn’t breathe, and no doubt afraid. Again, it was a mess. Judi was afraid that if she got into an ambulance they would take to the facility she didn’t want to go to, however, if she got into my car and I drove her there, she would be admitted. Not having an abundance of experience with emergency services myself, I told her I would drive her. At this time the fire trucks arrived. They typically do this to verify whether it is truly a medical emergency or if it is a smaller problem that they can handle.

Judi became extremely upset by the arrival of the fire trucks. Her neighbors then started coming poking around. The firemen were going to help her out to my car, but when one saw that she could not even walk, they felt that it would be a big mistake to load this lady into my car. They said she had to go to an emergency room. However, Judy was refusing because she was just certain they would take her to a place other than where her pulmonologist worked. She was incredibly worked up, very very upset, unable to breathe and with the combination of feeling like she was going to be trapped, her small apartment full of firemen and the neighbors snooping around, she had to shut down and just try to take deep heaves off her tank.

We stood around. She couldn’t be taken against her will in the ambulance. She was mad as a rat. She was swearing at me and calling me names.

I am not trained or acclimated to emergency services. I wasn’t freaking out on the outside, but inside I was wondering if I had inadvertently signed up for this.

Eventually the ambulance had gotten clearance from the place she wanted to go to have her brought in, probably because she was about to die herself because of her own insistence that she go only to this one place.

They loaded all 90 pounds of her up onto the stretcher and piled her into the ambulance. Her neighbors had been questioning me, and I knew that she wanted me to say nothing. I said she would be fine and probably they should go back to their houses as they stood there smoking in the bathrobes.

She had been yelling at me about talking to them, warning me that they were out to get her. In the ambulance, she wanted me to keep her keys so that I could take care of her place and come get her from the hospital. When I put her keys back into her purse and wished her luck and that I was going to pray for her, she cursed at me and the doors shut as the EMT’s worked to get her lungs cleared out.


The firemen were very nice to me as they cleared out. I think they seemed to understand my position. And I understood theirs. I appreciated their help in this wierd experience.

It went home absolutely wierded out by this middle of the night nutso experience. I called the sister in law, C to give her a rundown of what happened. I went on and on. I was feeling very uncertain about the duties I had ended up with.

I called Judi at the hospital. The family asked strongly that I go pick her up from the hospital after her stay in there for a week. The experience left me wanting to distance myself. I was okay with reading and spending time with people, but I didn’t want to be a sort of hospice care. I called all over to find some sort of service that would drive this lady home. Nothing.

After that, I spoke extensively with another woman whose mother had been a bit like Judi, and felt she could take care of Judi’s needs. After about 3 months, she distanced herself from Judi too, saying that Judi was really abusive and really a mindgamer, she couldn’t put herself through it anymore.

I called Judi, but I did not go to see her again. Part of me felt like it was a deficiency in my heart to not be able to take care of a Judi. Another part of me felt like this was the right choice, as I didn’t want someone getting inside my head, stressing me out by her unkind idiosyncrasies.

Judi had become a Christian shortly before I visited her. She made wonder about how to deal with racists, or headtrippers who also believed as I did, but just couldn’t make it transfer into their ways. Agh, it caused me a mental struggle, as she did and as another person in my life did.
I don’t anguish about Judi, but she represents more of a philosophical anomaly as a Christian. It seemed like there were some things that IF one could forgive them, it is incredibly hard to go on being around that person. I can forgive Judi because I know human frailty, pride, anger and the results of these things, but I couldn’t keep being with her or serving her as she needed.

So as a follower, a believer, we are supposed to offer this forgiveness, this grace. But as humans, at least for me, my ability is finite in this area. For example, I don’t know if I am truly capable of really extending true in my heart forgiveness to people who have hurt children.

Christ forgives this, these sins. And I am also to forgive them too. But human forgiveness is so flawed compared to what I received, and still receive.

There is no real end to this story, except that after she died I mentioned that I would like to go see her burial spot. J was confounded as to why. We had a conversation about visiting gravesites. This was never part of my upbringing, but it had been brought in by Diana Vladimirovna, and even though we couldn’t communicate very well, I understood the compassion from which this activity came from.

As a believer, I am always grateful for these questions that I am confronted with. These thoughts that I wrestle with. Questions that seem without real answers. I know the answer that someone who isn’t a believer, I know that answer really well. Cut and run, take care of yourself, forget about it, I got my own problems. While I am not interested in getting all wrapped up in these things, it seems to be there has to be something better that can be done for people who are broken.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Mrs. T says:

    In experiences like these, the obvious is that she was so lucky to have had you in the later part of her days on earth. The not so obvious is that you were lucky to have had her, in some weird way. Those people that push our buttons, that push us away, that cause us to want to distance ourselves from them? They are the ones who need human kindness and compassion the most. And they are the hardest to give it to. I guess you can rest assured that at last she has found peace and has finally been released from all of the anger that weighed her down for so many years.

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