June 6, 2008

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

The poverty of loneliness

David SilerBy the time Bonnie called Catholic Charities in Tell City, she was already receiving hospice care but had one simple request: Could the agency help provide nutritional supplements that were not covered by Medicaid?

Joan Hess, the agency director of Catholic Charities in Tell City, took the phone call and listened to Bonnie describe a long history of multiple illnesses, near complete blindness, financial struggles and almost no family support. Hess would also learn later that Bonnie needed pads to protect her chairs due to her failing kidneys and bladder.

Hess went to visit Bonnie in her home, taking with her the supplements and pads that she needed. She learned that what Bonnie needed more than these items was a person who cared enough to listen.

She told Hess that she was the first “social services” person who would take the time to really talk with her. Bonnie had called just about every local church searching for someone to just come visit her, but received only one brief visit from an elderly lady.

Being nearly blind, Bonnie could no longer read. Her ex-husband had moved back in with her to help take care of her, but he was illiterate.

During visits, Hess would sometimes read the newspaper, inspirational books or the Bible. Bonnie loved to hear stories about Jesus.

During her last days, Bonnie would call Hess on the phone just to chat and dispel some of the intense loneliness that she felt most days. Hess always had plenty of work to do, but realized that the work could wait. What God really needed her for was to simply listen with love and concern.

Hess recalled that during one visit to Bonnie’s home her necklace caught the light in such a way that she was able to see it sparkle. Bonnie asked, “Do you like sparkly things?”

Hess told her that sometimes she did. Bonnie and her ex-husband got out her jewelry box, and she gave Hess one of her necklaces. It was inexpensive costume jewelry, but Hess put it on that day and still cherishes it because it was given out of love.

Bonnie knew that she would die soon and asked Hess to pray with her that she would have an easy death—which she did. Soon after her death, both her daughter and ex-husband called Hess to let her know how much she had meant to Bonnie.

There are so many types of poverty and surely Bonnie fit many descriptions, but perhaps loneliness is the poverty that cuts the deepest.

Not all of us have the means to give a great deal to others financially, but we all have the gift of ourselves to offer.

Like Hess, we can all seize the moments that present themselves to pause from the business of our lives to give our full attention to someone suffering from the poverty of loneliness.

(David Siler is executive director of the Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. E-mail him at dsiler@archindy.org.) †

Local site Links: