by Father Mark Goldasich
Over the past few weeks, I’ve celebrated funeral Masses for two women who died in their 90s — one was a parishioner; the other was an aunt. Among the positive qualities that both possessed is something that’s rapidly disappearing from our world: the art of visiting.
Consider the following story:
One morning a man was having breakfast with his daughters: Kristen, who was six years old, and Madison, 4. He was feeling guilty about not spending much time with them.
“You know that I love you both very much, don’t you?” the father said. “Well, it’s not always important the quantity of time we spend together, as it is the quality of that time.”
Both girls stared at him blankly, not understanding anything that he’d said. The dad explained, “Quantity means how much time we spend together, and quality means how good the times are that we’re together. Now, which would you rather have?”
Without missing a beat, Kristen piped up, “Quality time . . . and lots of it!” (Adapted from a story in “Perfect Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion,” edited by Craig Brian Larson and Drew Zahn.)
Isn’t that what all of us really want and need? Sadly, though, spending time together is a vanishing commodity. And it’s not only the quality time that’s missing; often the quantity isn’t there either. An easy place to start reversing that trend is by rediscovering that art of visiting. Begin with the elderly — not only are they great teachers of how to visit, they are also those most welcoming (and in need) of visitors.
Since people are sometimes leery of striking up conversations with perfect strangers, hone your visiting skills by reconnecting with elderly relatives. These winter months can be particularly lonely, as cold and inclement weather may prevent them from venturing outside.
The following are some pointers that I’ve found helpful during my visits to the shut-ins in the parish:
• Call and set up a good time to come over. You don’t want to just drop in and discover that the person has a doctor’s appointment that day or that a visiting nurse or physical therapist is there to work with them. Setting up an appointment is not only respectful and practical; it also gives the person something to look forward to during the week.
• Don’t come empty-handed. Bring a bulletin from church, a favorite treat or a book of large-print word search puzzles with you. It doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive. Often the more practical an item is, the more it is appreciated.
• Speak slowly and distinctly. This is particularly important if, as one of my shut-ins once said, “I don’t hear so good anymore.”
• Be patient. In the course of your visit, you might hear some stories repeated. Realize that the world of the elderly has often shrunk to the confines of their home and that new experiences are few and far between (unless it’s an ache or pain).
• Shut off your cellphone or put it on vibrate. It is OK, however, to bring the phone out and show the person you’re visiting pictures on there of the family or of a vacation.
• Don’t be in a hurry to leave. Definitely don’t begin a visit with, “I can only stay a few minutes!”
• In the course of the visit, ask if there’s anything that the person needs. It might be as simple as reaching for something on a top shelf or reading a letter to them that they received or writing a response.
• Promise to come back again . . . and then do!
Future visits might include bringing a younger child or a well-behaved pet along with you. It’s also a lot of fun to look at old photos and ask questions about the people pictured there, the occasion, what the world was like then, etc.
As you become more adept at the art of visiting, a curious thing will happen: Time will seem to fly by, leaving both visitor and “visitee” happy, enriched . . . and eager for lots more.