Family (Nursing) Home Evening
I took my family to a nursing home tonight. I dreaded going, but ironically, I’d be happy to go back.
There’s a retirement home/assisted living complex (or whatever is the nicest way to describe a place where elderly people are often sent to live when their families are unable or unwilling to care for them) within my ward’s boundaries. (“Ward” is the LDS word for congregation. Outside of Utah, ward boundaries can stretch for many miles across counties; within Utah, a ward is often just a neighborhood because of the higher concentration of LDS families.)
My family was asked to help provide Family Home Evening for the residents of the building. Family Home Evening is exactly what it sounds like. It’s traditionally held on Monday night, but it can be any day a family decides to set apart some time to enjoy each other’s company. The format varies from family to family. At my house, on a good night, our program includes a song, an opening prayer, a brief lesson on a gospel principle or scripture story, another song and a closing prayer. This takes less than 30 minutes, including nagging and redirecting of wiggly children. Some nights we are far less formal and just talk about our blessings while we eat treats, or play a game together. Any format qualifies so long as you’re with your family.
Even among single people (who often attend “singles wards,” made up of unmarried church members), Family Home Evening is a regular tradition. They might collaborate with friends or be assigned to a “family” created with other members of their singles ward.
People in nursing homes miss regular life, and Family Home Evening is a part of regular LDS life. My ward is responsible for helping the nursing home staff create weekly Family Home Evening events for the residents there, and this week was our turn to help.
I have a general phobia of character-building experiences. As much as I want to provide them for my children, I get nervous about them. Nursing homes scare me a bit, mainly because they force me to confront my own mortality and make me consider the mortality of people I love. In Hawai’i, aging people are called kupuna, a term of great respect and endearment for men and women. I know of no equivalent in English, which is a shame. While I was full of theoretical respect for the kupuna we were about to meet, I worried things might not go smoothly.
Would these residents be. . . OK? Of course, of course, they are people like anyone else, but there were still a lot of variable beyond my control. Would they be able to participate, or would they even care we were there? Would my children be charming or completely toad-like?
I shouldn’t have worried. My eight-year-old son is Captain of the Cheeseballs, and he knows a captive audience when he sees one. He was given a microphone, which delights him as much as cookies delight me. He gave his little talk about choosing the right, and then we sang a few songs with the residents.
That was the part I’d been extra nervous about. We are not a musically trained or talented family. We like music well enough, we certainly appreciate people who can produce it, but we’re not among them. I fretted the people who’d assigned us to help were imagining my family singing harmonies while wearing matching sweaters and strumming guitars. (That’s the family down the street, not us.)
Again, what was I so worried about? No one has ever told my children they shouldn’t sing in public. It’s one of the luxuries on being young, I think, to still feel that it is perfectly acceptable to do things you may not be awesome at. If it’s fun, you can do it. No inhibitions, just Eensy Weensy Spider at the top of your lungs with all the actions and a grin on your face. And it’s not as if Simon Cowell were in the audience–this was the most forgiving group I’ve ever stood in front of. They were so genuinely pleased to see my kids bouncing around enthusiastically–smiling and waving and patting them as they walked by– that our song performace hardly mattered. The children were the stars; my husband and I were just the people who drove them there.
I was amazed and relieved to see how relaxed my boys were around the residents. They were completely unfazed by the wrinkles and wheelchairs and–let’s be honest–occasional undignified behavior. The kids smiled and passed out napkins and cupcakes and chatted cheerily. These were grandmas and grandpas and that was good enough. Everything else was an irrelevent detail.
The last song we sung was the classic LDS children’s hymn, “I Am a Child of God.” I’ve sung it so many times it’s almost cliche, but tonight, singing it with my little men and those welcoming old people, those kupuna, I heard it like it was the first time. My children are young, but they are learning to love. God’s children age, but they don’t stop loving. How lucky I was to be among them tonight.