Source: St. Elizabeth Convent
It was Monday. I was heading to the Department 12 of the National Mental Health Hospital with my teeth clenched. There was a severe wound in my own soul, and it hurt unbearably.
When I entered the nurse’s room, I was asked sympathetically, “What is wrong with your mood today?” I was surprised to receive so much attention. I tried to comfort myself and answered, “Thank You! Everything is fine”, as at that moment I was going to open the door which led to the world, where all my personal problems would melt like the last year snow…
*** The old ladies, who had not seen me earlier, stood out of my way, when I was going along the hallway. Those of them, who knew me and, what is more important, who could remember me since my previous visits, smiled to me, and some of them even came to hug me.
I saw an old lady, Rufina, sitting near the window and chewing something toughly. When I came closer to her and sat nearby, I saw that what she was chewing was a piece of cloth (people in such a bad condition feel hungry all the time). I took the cloth to throw it out and brought the woman some food…
In the room 5 there was a new patient, a young woman. She was lying with her eyes closed, but it was easy to understand that she was not sleeping. “Do not touch her”, - said someone from the neighboring bed. “They have just brought her there. She is in serious condition. She has had an accession and began to scream and tear the sheets. She got an injection then…”
“Good afternoon”, mannerly said Sofia, an old lady with aristocratic face features. The nurses even gave her a nickname, which was "Nixie". They called her by that name because of her long red hair. Well, when she queued her hair it really looked like a fish tail…
I saw another lady, whose name was Nina. She wandered all over the department every time I came to visit the patients. But that very day she was lying quietly in bed covered with a blanket. I came to her and sat on the edge of the bed. “Nina, what’s wrong with you today? Do you feel sick?” – “Yes, you know… I feel bad today”. But then a flood of words followed: the woman began to pronounce disjointed words, which made no sense. She did that quite emotionally, clapping me on my hand and smiling. Sometimes she stopped speaking and began to sing the melody I did not know. She always sang something…
*** The air here is always state. We cannot aerate the rooms for long because the elderly patients are like children – they can get sick quite easily. Only some of them have the right to leave the building and spend some time outside, in the open air. The rest of them have to walk along the short hall of the department. Sometimes they look through the window, covered with a white net curtain or try to push the door-handles in the hope that the door will open, and they will wander across the building or maybe even find way out…
I remember an old lady, from whom I could not get an answer. She could not hear me just because of her dumbness. But she was always happy to see me and hugged me saying, “It is so wonderful you come to see me!” The nurses asked me sometimes to feed her, because she refused to eat. She was afraid of being poisoned.
“How could you get there? How could you know my address?.. I’m so glad to see you!” - said Zoe. She had a wonderful voice and could sing beautifully. I always asked her to sing for us before dinner, and after her sinning we all applauded her. She was a bit embarrassed but at the same time she liked it.
*** The most difficult thing is to see people dying just in front of you. Every time you come there, you can witness another phase of a person’s fading. However, sometimes it happens quickly: you come next time and see that there is no person you have come to, and that the bed is empty already.
It is almost impossible to communicate with some patients, because their mental condition is too bad. But the most of them are waiting for a sister of mercy to come, and they remember them.
You know, a sister of mercy looks conspicuous in the department, because of her white apron and white kerchief with embroidered cross. The old ladies always say some kind words about me. They find me nice and even call me with the honorable word “angel”. At the moleben, when a father anoints them with the blessed oil and besprinkles with the holy water, they look in my eyes gratefully and thank me. I am uncomfortable at such moments, so I just smile to them in response.
The elderly people sometimes ask difficult questions: “You know, I saw my parents dying. My mother, who was a very kind and faithful person, was dying hard. She was ill for quite a long time and suffered much, and shortly before her death her lips become black. But my father, who did not believe in God, died easily, while sitting at the dining table. Just in one moment. So, now I cannot stop comparing… By the way, do you know Valentina Tolkunova, a famous Russian singer? She was absolutely sure that God would help her. She even went to Jerusalem, but it did not help her and she died. Why is it so?”
In such moments I keep silent. There is a “common” answer for such cases: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth” (Hebrews, 12:6). However, it is clear that in all the other stories of such kind the question is the same: “Where is God, Who does certainly love “His” people? It seems that He does not help us…”
Much later I got the understanding that a disease is not a shameful stain, but a personal cross. The Kingdom of Heaven is open for everyone until the man lives. It is true that God can heal the sick one in one moment. He cured the blind and they could see. But people keep asking: “Why does God not heal today?” If you are limped, then you will limp for all your life. And how can you know that this is how God humbles you? Perhaps, you have chosen that cross by yourself, and if you bear it till the very end, you will manage to humble yourself…
*** The head of the department asked us once, “You are so young, then why are you doing all this?” My sister and I just smiled and said that we liked what we did. Such obedience may seem difficult and unpleasant to other people. However, in our world there will always be the people who need our support, our help and our kindness. This is why we believe that new sisters will join our ministry.
Of course it can be difficult to help other people. Some cannot do this by some reasons, while the others just do not know how to help. I believe that this is what we can learn to do. In this case any person will manage to make the world better. A person who makes something good is like a torch, a small piece of light which lightens the space around. And there can be much of them, if only people want and try to do good deeds.
*** One of the fathers has blessed our patients to learn the payer to the Holy Spirit. From day to day we are losing our hope, and it begins to seem impossible to me and my sister to fulfill this task. The thing is that the elderly people forget everything too fast, and that is why write the words of the prayer on paper, but it does not help yet. Anyway, they are optimistic about this. They are ready to learn the prayer with our help. And we believe in them and hope in God, for Whom nothing is impossible!
A story by Sister Olga (Alexandrova)