Today, along side my parents, I went into a nursing home to visit my aunt. As we walked down the hall toward my aunt’s door, another resident called out repeatedly from their room. I turned to my mother, ‘Will someone go to her?’ My mother replied that the woman always called the same line out over and over. What she meant was… no.

The call, in an elderly and feeble voice, ‘Please help me… help me… help me… please help me.’

We carried on toward my aunt’s door as other residents’ TV’s blared from their rooms and nurses milled about. The call still chiming, ‘Please help me… help me…’

The visit with my aunt was pleasant – we enjoy these brief interludes when I return to NY even though I settled in AK decades ago. Focusing on my aunt I had forgotten about the haunting call of her fellow resident asking for attention. But when we left my aunt’s room, the call was still echoing through the hall. ‘Please help me.’

I know the nurses are not ignoring a critical health need of the resident crying out. If I was going to ask the nurses anything it would have been along the lines of, ‘How do you handle the cry for help? What does a person do upon hearing a relentless and unchanging plea for help?

I wondered if I, myself, could help by going and offering a listening ear to this woman. I didn’t act on that impulse to help and I had several reasons why. One of them was the memory of visiting a different relative in another nursing home and my automatic reflex to help someone asking for help there. I helped tuck her blanket around her and returned to my relative’s side. But another need arose and I responded, picking up a book for her that had slid off her lap. Another need and another need kept me from visiting with my family member.

That day, I went over to a nurse and told her there was a resident in need. The nurse waved her hand, ‘Oh yes, she’s fine, she’ll ask for something all day.’ The nurse, though, did go over to the woman and tended to something for her. 

In retrospect, when the nurse went over and offered attention to the… oh… I don’t want to say it this way… needy resident… I felt more at ease. The resident may or may not have been put at ease, but I was. Who was the needy one, eh?

Today, hearing a call for help and yet just walking past, I am not at ease. I offer this letter from within my helplessness. I think of the times that people have commented on the selfless listening of the volunteers of the Listening Post. And while it is selfless, I got a glimpse today of something within myself that is uncomfortable being helpless in response to another. I truly have no idea what I might have done differently today. But the feeling is not one of bewilderment and seeking what I might have done. The feeling is… of confessing that there is nothing I can do. 

It is uncomfortable to leave you with this letter. My letters sometimes sum things up and this one leaves things hanging. But still, here it is.

To know there is a community of dedicated people with whom I can leave my confession is something for which I am forever grateful,
thank you for carrying on with listening,