October 1, 2013
Mary White, Ray of Sunshine in a Nursing Home for 15 Years
In a small room in Snellville, Mary White picks at her food. The television is on, although neither Mary nor her two roommates are watching. Although unappetizingly pureed in small bowls, Mary has already bowed her head to offer a prayer of thanks to God for that food. Mary has blessed her food at each meal like this in her nursing home bed for the last 15 years. When many people would be angry with God for being stuck in a nursing home bed for that amazing length of time, Mary continues to be grateful for her life and faithful to God. She’s a ray of sunshine in a depressing place.
Mary White was 68 in 1998 when she suffered a stroke. Quick response from paramedics saved her life, but left Mary unable to use half of her body. As the paramedics stood her up to help her into the ambulance, she correctly predicted it would be the last time she would stand and walk on her feet. She has been lying in bed ever since.
Although her facial muscles were not affected, Mary is unable to use her left arm or leg. Her mental capacity is unchanged. It must have been a shock to Mary to suddenly be trapped in a non-functioning body. There was so much Mary wanted to do in her retirement. She was traveling, working at the temple and doing genealogy. And she had many close friends she spent time with in her hometown of Savannah. Now her life would be completely different. Mary chose to live in a full care facility and not be a burden on her family. Moving to a Snellville nursing home would allow her four children to visit her. They visit faithfully. Their visits bring Mary great joy.
Mary’s church family has visited her regularly too. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) Mary became a member of the Snellville congregation when she moved into the nursing home. Although she can’t attend church, members visit her and leave inspired by her good attitude. Missionaries got into the routine of visiting Mary on Friday afternoons to play Dominoes. (She beats them every game.) Young priests come each Sunday to administer the emblems of the Sacrament.
Everyone from church who visits Mary immediately loves her because of her sunny disposition and the twinkle in her eyes. She does not complain about being stuck in bed, even though she is often in pain. One congregant gathered donated yarn so Mary could crochet again, although without her left hand, she was unable to master crochet again. Another congregant visited her nearly daily with his wife, bringing her lunch from their favorite restaurants. And another rounded up donations to purchase Mary a motorized wheelchair so Mary could get outside more often. Like me, I'm sure that these church friends feel like they benefit more than Mary does from their visits.
Phantom pain from Mary’s affected side is almost constant. She developed bedsores almost immediately from lying constantly. They have not healed. Her glasses were stolen, leaving her unable to read. Mary fills her time doing what crafts she can master, like coloring in black velvet paintings with markers. And she looks forward to visitors, especially children. Mary is cheerful and engaged. At our visits, she usually shares her letters from friends we know, asking us to reread them to her. She fills us in with news of her children and grandchildren, clearly proud of the great family she raised.
Nurses caring for Mary enjoy visiting with her too. Mary has shared her faith in Jesus Christ with each of them. When we visit her, she often asks us to pray with her before we leave. And she blesses her food before eating it, always expressing gratitude for her life. It is remarkable. When I told her recently that our family prays for her every day, she was glad to hear that. “I believe in prayer,” she stated simply. Clearly she relies on prayer to cope with each day’s challenges. And by her positive attitude, it’s clear that she believes in a better world.
Mary has said many times that she doesn’t own anything of value anymore. She had to part with her car and other possessions after her stroke. But she has told me more than once that she is rich because her family is her treasure. "I don't have any riches; my children are my riches. They are my treasure. The best is knowing that they love me with a real love. Not the fake stuff, but real love."
I honor Mary because she shows us all how to live with extremely difficult circumstances with joy. She cheerfully endures a major setback and life change and makes the best of it. What an example!