For many years, I have loved volunteering at care centers and nursing homes. I suppose it began with Grace.
Grace was a lovely widow in my neighborhood. When I was a teenager, my parents told me she needed a little extra help around the house. So I went over about every other week, sometimes more, to vacuum for her, clean the bathrooms and do little jobs around the house. Sometimes she forced me to take $5, but most of the time I told her it wasn't necessary because I was doing so little for her. I got to talk to Grace while I cleaned and before I left to go home. She was a lovely lady. For Christmas, she gave me a statue of a little bear with a blue dress and a little parasol. On the bottom of the bear, it says "You Have Such Wonderful Grace." That bear still sits on the stand by my bed.
As happens to those who are aging, Grace's health started to deteriorate and I believe it was a series of strokes that landed her in a care center about 35 minutes from my home. When I was down in that area for one reason or the other, I would stop in to see my dear Grace. For a while, she remembered me, and then she didn't anymore. I gained confidence, though, in visiting care centers. As other members of my ward were in rehabilitation centers, I tried to stop in to visit. And then I left for college. But I did not forget about Grace. I kept her in my thoughts and prayers until the day she passed on from this life. I still miss Grace.
But I have tried to carry on what I learned from her. In my first semester as a freshman at Brigham Young University, I had a friend in my ward, Karen, who invited me one Sunday to go to a care center and visit the residents. I went along. I was a little timid to meet people I didn't know and a little afraid of what the experience would be like. Instead I found wonderful residents who became very dear friends to me. Lona, Margaret, Carl, Mary and Afton became my weekly best friends. I started to go with Karen every Sunday to visit these residents. They often asked us to sing to them. More and more people heard about us, so we would go and visit and then gather residents together to listen to us sing hymns of praise. My heart was touched and my soul uplifted by these wonderful residents. Many came and went as some were there only for rehabilitation. Others stayed. I loved my dear friends. Some told us the same stories every week. Some remembered exactly who we were and learned about our personal lives. Carl was going deaf, so we mostly yelled when we visited him or we wrote notes to him on his white board. Sometimes we just sat there to let him know he was loved.
Lona's health declined and she was soon placed in a new care center. I started to visit both centers. Lona gradually forgot who I was. And then she passed as well. At that point, I wondered if I could keep making such dear friends whose passing filled me with grief and sadness. I was losing friends, over and over again, at such a young age. But my determination did not stop. I continued to visit.
I then left on a mission for a year and half. When I returned home, I went back to school. And to my chagrin, there was a group in my new ward who visited a care center in Springville, Utah, and sang and visited with the residents. I immediately joined in with them and began my Sunday routine of visiting those who needed me. The residents there loved us every bit as much as the residents had in the other care centers. They all gathered in a large group every Sunday in the front lobby. We sang to them and played the piano and talked with them about the wonderful things happening in their lives and in ours. What a blessed experience.
In 2010, I moved to Salt Lake. In a new city, with new people and new experiences, I wasn't quite sure how to fit in and what my new path would be. But shortly after arriving in Salt Lake, I was asked to coordinate service efforts in my ward. Are you surprised at my first step? I began visiting the local care center. I quickly became friends with DB, a long-time resident who always told us she was "mean and ornery" but is actually one of the dearest people in the world. I made more friends with Bob and Ralph. They asked me to sing to them. I began visiting and singing and invited others to come along. Quickly, word spread throughout the center that there were "singers" that came every Sunday. We had requests to visit more and more residents. As the requests grew, we decided to gather everyone in the lobby in the afternoon on Sundays and sing to them. If they couldn't come, we visited those who requested our singing in their rooms.
Now every Sunday we are at the care center for about an hour. We sing. We visit. We laugh. We love. We hug. And sometimes we cry.
This past Sunday, we found another dear friend of ours had passed on. And another is likely to pass soon. And so many have passed in the two and a half years we've visited there.
I cried this past Sunday. I will miss my friends. But I am so grateful that I know of a plan that those who we know on this earth will be friends beyond this earth as well. Because of the Savior's grace, we will all meet in heaven again. I love that knowledge. I love that I will see my dear friends again. I love that I came to that understanding...because of Grace.