Thereís No Such Thing as a Bad Day: How God Was Faithful Ö Even When I Wasnít Looking
By Kathleen Fairman
"Do you know where Henry is?"
Striding quickly through the hallways of a nursing home that I visit as a music minister, I was stopping staff members to ask about the husband of one of my patients. "I have to find him soon. Mavis is dying!"
As my eyes darted around each corridor, I mentally reviewed Mavisís history. She had been diagnosed with Alzheimerís disease some decades before. For the nearly one year that I had known her, she had been very ill Ė unable to care for herself, non-responsive, never turning at the sound of even familiar voices. None of this was unusual in a patient with such long-standing illness. What was unusual was Mavisís husband, Henry.
You see, Henry entertained his spouse with me. It had started at my first visit, when Iíd asked what kind of music Mavis enjoyed.
"Well," Henry had said shyly, in a voice tinged with a mid-western accent, "there is a song that they sang at our wedding. Would you be willing to learn that, for us to sing together?"
Would I! From then on, Henry and I had performed the old song, "Always," each time that Iíd visited Mavis. And what a privilege it was! To watch Henryís face turn tenderly toward his wife, as if she were still his bride of nearly 60 years ago, was sheer joy.
But there was something even more special about Henry. Each morning, without fail, Henry arrived at the nursing home, sat next to his wife, and stayed until evening Ė talking to Mavis, combing her hair, and regaling visitors with tales of their life in Iowa. One of only two spouses that I have ever known to do this, Henry had become something of a legend at the home, especially among the female staff!
That was why, on this day when the hospice nurse told me that Mavis was in her final hours, I was baffled. Where could Henry be? It just didnít seem right to sing to Mavis without him.
But after searching for fifteen minutes, I realized that I had to return to Mavisís room alone. There I found the nurse gone and a kindly looking woman sitting in the chair next to Mavisís bed, crocheting.
"Hello," I greeted her and told her my name. "Iím a music minister, and I sing for Mavis. Are you a relative?"
"Yes," she answered quietly. "Iím Anne, Mavisís sister. Henry asked me to Ö sit with her for a while."
I wish that I had something inspiring to say about what happened next, or how I felt about it. The truth is, I simply did a job that I knew I had to do. Strange as it sounds, without Henry, I felt lost in Mavisís room. And as I sang lyrics that had meant so much to an extraordinarily devoted couple so many years before, Mavis, once a radiant bride, now stared straight ahead, seemingly heedless of the music or its significance.
Later, as I gratefully entered the sanctuary of my car, I dissolved into tears. How, I wondered, could God have allowed Mavis to die without hearing Henry sing to her one last time? It made no sense! Instead of the fulfillment that I often feel when I share a patientís last hours with their family, I felt only confusion, loss and discouragement that persisted for days.
Mavisís funeral announcement appeared in the paper later that week. Hesitant to intrude, but wanting to help comfort Henry if I could, I drove across town for the visitation. Entering the funeral home, I spotted Henry and ran to hug him.
"Iím sorry," he whispered softly, "that I wasnít with you when you sang to Mavis. I had to meet our son for lunch. But comeÖ" he grabbed my hand and led me across the room, "there are people I want you to meet."
Anne was the first to see me. Reaching for my hand, she shook it enthusiastically, and turned to a boy whom I judged to be about 13 or 14. "This is Mavisís grandson Ö Joe, come here! Itís the singer I was telling you about."
A few others approached. "Molly Ö Jerry ... Itís the girl who sang to Mavis when she died."
Startled, I realized that some of the eyes looking at me held tears, even as hands were reaching out to touch mine.
I certainly hadnít expected this. Why would they have heard about me? "Iím sorryÖ" I murmured to Anne, shaking my head. "I donít understand."
"You donít? Before you came in, Mavis was so agitated! But, during your song, I noticed that her breathing changed Ė it was much calmer. Didnít you notice? She died a few minutes after you left -- at peace."
I stared at Anne for a few moments, my mind reeling. How could I have missed this? Henry couldnít be there when Mavis died, so God sent me. Mavis was so accustomed to hearing my voice with Henryís that she might even have thought he was there.
I go to that nursing home only once each month for an hour, but I just happened to be there during the fifteen-minute window when Mavis and Henry needed me most. And all this time, I thought, smiling inwardly at my own foolishness, I had looked back on that day as awful Ė a day when everything went wrong Ė when actually God had been at work, faithfully putting things right for Mavisís final journey home. Instead of trusting, I had leaned on my own understanding, and that error had cost me days of discouragement.
So maybe, a lesson for me had been a small part of Godís purpose that day. Maybe I needed to be reminded that even Ė or perhaps most of all Ė when things seem darkest, God is there, often unseen, calling us to look away from our very limited perspective and toward His eternal promise. That is why we are called to persevere in whatever God asks us to do, no matter what despair we feel, no matter what evil or misery we think we see, no matter what seems to be going all wrong.
And most of all, that is why there really is no such thing as a bad day.
Authorís Note: To protect this familyís privacy, I have changed a number of details, including their names, the state where they lived, and the title of "Henry and Mavisís" special song.
Kathleen Fairman, a health care researcher and vestry (board) member of her church, lives in Phoenix, Arizona. She and her husband have three active boys. Their home is almost always joyful, rarely completely clean, and never quiet. You can write to Kathleen through the Letters page of this magazine.
Send this Page To a friend!