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Glenn seemed to follow me everywhere I went. Although I had been working at the care center only a week, the elderly man standing before me had already become all too familiar. Looking at him for a moment, I felt repulsed. Long overdue for a shave because he refused to cooperate with such procedures, Glen's stubble-laden chin glistened with drool. A permanent scowl seemed etched on his face. His sparse, white hair stood on end, and an unpleasant odor emanated from his unkempt clothing. The staff tried to keep him clean, but Glen made that difficult.

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The other nursed seemed fond of him, but I was perplexed at what they found endearing in this demanding old man. With fairly advanced Alzheimer's, he seemed to require constant staff attention and was not easily turned away. His favorite word was "Hey," and that word was currently being drummed into my head. His feeble, shaky fist pounded on my medication cart, making it difficult for me to push the heavy behemoth down the hallway.


Honesty, how will I ever get my work done with this annoying man following me everywhere I go? I thought.


"Hey, what's that?" he queried. "Have you got some for me?"


"You had your meds already, Glen," I said blandly.


"No, I didn't!!" he replied, pounding his fist even harder on the cart.


I reached for a tissue to catch the drool as it dripped from his chin. For a moment, I thought, Why did I ever go into nursing? Actually, I loved being a nurse and loved most of my patients, but Glen presented a special challenge to my tolerance and endurance.


I successfully maneuvered around with my cart and proceeded down the hall. I could hear his shuffling gait behind me, and I knew he would catch me, like the tortoise beating the hare. His tenacity amazed and frustrated me.


After working at the facility a few month, I, too, inexplicably began to have warm feelings toward Glen. I patiently endured his constant interruptions, the pounding and the demands: "Give me some!!" "Wait!!" "Hey!!"


He was my constant companion while I pushed my cast about the facility dispensing medications and conversation. His interruptions became familiar, and even welcome.


One night when I arrived home late, I kicked off my shoes, elevated my weary feet and tried to understand my transformation and new tolerance for Glen. How had this man who had previously repulsed me wormed his way into my heart?


I thought about what we nurses did for Glen: we wiped his chin and his nose, buttoned his shirt, protected him from harm and tried to meet his insatiable need for human contact. Having Glen hang on my med cart was like a mom working in her kitchen with a toddler hanging on her leg, wailing "Hey!!" in baby talk.


Glen appealed to the mothering instinct in each of us, but it was more than that. I realized I had stopped seeing the wrinkled skin and the unkempt body and learned to peer deeply into his eyes, the window to his soul. There I saw a lonely old man who was communicating through his Alzheimer's the only way he could.


I wondered about the condition of his soul. Had he known God before he was stricken with Alzheimer's? I decided not to ask him about it, since I did not think he would be able to understand because of his disease.


One day a new nurse, fresh from school, came to work at the facility. Melanie had the eagerness that most new graduates possess. We older, seasoned nurses sighed and knew the havoc that we would probably have to endure. She did not disappoint. She set about trying to rearrange the entire facility without the benefit of wisdom.


One of her causes became getting Glen on a medication to control his intrusive behavior. Without consulting anyone, she called his doctor and got an order for a medication that would modify and mellow his behavior.


Soon I realized that I was doing more and more tasks alone. "Where is Glen?" I would ask a nursing assistant. The reply had increasingly become that he was lying down, taking a nap. He gradually began sleeping more and eating less. When he started losing weight, a nurse called his physician and got the medication discontinued.


Glen was never the same. We nurses realized that change was inevitable with his disease, but we were not prepared to accept it. Perhaps Melanie had hastened the process, or perhaps the changes were simply masked by the drug as they happened. What became abundantly clear was that Glen had changed.


All of us vainly tried to rehabilitate Glen. We sent him to see his doctor, had the physical therapist work with him and pleaded with him to eat. We tried desperately to get the old Glen back.


It was Christmas time, and I had two precious days off to prepare for the holidays. I momentarily forgot about Glen because of the demands of the season. On Christmas Eve, I was in the kitchen baking when the phone rang. I debated about letting the answering machine take the call because of time pressures but reluctantly answered it.


Mary, a soft-spoken nurse from the care center, greeted me gently. For a split second, I wondered why she would be calling me on Christmas Eve and worried that a nurse had called in sick or could not make it because of the weather. It was snowing heavily, and the roads were already covered.


Haltingly, she explained, "I thought you would want to know that Glen is dying." The news cut sharply through my cluttered thoughts. I barely heard the rest of her words as she described how his condition had quickly deteriorated during the day.


As I threw down my dishtowel and grabbed my coat, I could only focus on how much I wanted to tell Glen goodbye. Driving to the care center, the deep, white drifts that had quickly accumulated on the highway buffeted my little car. Eventually, I arrived safely at the center.


Mary met me at the door and informed me that I was too late. Glen had just quietly slipped away. Immediately, regret washed over me like a flood. I had not been able to tell him goodbye and had missed the last opportunity to speak to him about his soul. I knew he would not have been able to discuss his spiritual condition, but should I have talked with him anyway?


I entered his room and saw his lifeless body lying on the bed. The once-permanent scowl had melted away. Tearfully, I leaned over and choked out a quiet, "Goodbye, Glen."


When I walked out of his room and saw the other nurses, I ran outside to hide my sobs. Cold snowflakes hit my face and mingled with hot tears. I wiped them away and remembered all of the times I had wiped Glen's chin for him.


Wistfully, I prayed that Glen had made peace with God at some point in his life. I grieved not only at the loss of this dear old man but at the lost opportunity to share with him the good news that Christ had died for him. I also thought about all of the other people that I should be sharing the gospel with while they can comprehend my words.


Since that Christmas Eve in 1985, other patients have become just as dear to me, some who also had Alzheimer's. I know they do not understand my words, but now I look deeply into their eyes and tell them of God's love for them. I pray that the Holy Spirit will transform my words into a language that only the soul can understand and that they make their peace with God.