Alice Klemashevich shares her experience as a Stephen Minister and one woman who made a huge impact on her view of care:
In 2014 I got a call from Joe Shafer, asking if I was available to take on a new Care Receiver. I'd been a Stephen Minister for several years and had closed out my last assignment so I said yes.
Joe went on to tell me that my new Care Receiver was a woman in her 80s with cancer. "Ugh!" I thought. "This is going to be a beating! I'll have nothing in common with a sobbing dying woman." Little did I know, my Care Receiver was an intelligent, feisty Southern lady who would become one of my dearest friends.
I called my new Care Receiver to set up a meeting time. She was going for Chemo and said she'd let me know when she was available. A couple of weeks later I called back. Yes she did want to meet but she'd been busy. Her social schedule was quite full and she constantly had company coming. We arranged a time to meet and I uttered a prayer that this relationship wouldn't be soggy with tears every week.
When we met, I immediately noticed she was dressed to the nines with her hair done and makeup on. She certainly didn't look like a fragile old woman. We learned we were both raised in the deep South, had travelled extensively, loved to read and were considered "wild."
Over the next 2 years, we met every other week (she said that's all she needed) and discussed life, death, the future, religion, politics, family and a host of other topics on her mind. When she told me about some dental work her dentist recommended, I said "Well, it's your body so you do what you want to do. However, once I turn 80 I'm not having any more mammograms or elective dental work." She declared, for the umpteenth time, that I was a bad influence on her.
She was a lifelong Methodist and we shared a surprisingly similar inclusive theology. She once told me "We aren't really Methodist, you know." I acted shocked and said her parents and grandparents were rolling in their graves. She reconsidered and announced "Well, I guess we're closer to Methodists than anything else."
About a year and a half after we met, her health took a dramatic downward turn. She couldn't drive so I picked her up for our meetings and took her to church on Sundays. She wanted me to drive her car because it was lower to the ground but I assured her that since she weighed less than a bale of hay I could throw her in my truck if necessary. She grumbled but got in the truck, dressed to the nines as always. On pajama Sunday, as we were walking in church, I asked why she wasn't wearing her pajamas. She said she didn't have any. I loudly announced "Well, I never knew you were a nudist!" She threatened to beat me to death with her walker.
Soon she was no longer able to leave her house so I went to her house to talk. I'd find her sitting on the couch, holding court and bossing everyone around. Our visits became shorter as she tired easily. One night I got an email from a friend that she wasn't expected to live through the night. The next day I called her house, expecting to talk to the family about arrangements. I was shocked when she answered the phone and said "Ha! I fooled all of you and lived!" However, as she became weaker and weaker, she told me quietly "I'm ready to go."
I called her on a Sunday and asked if she felt like company. For the first time ever, she said no. I went out of town for work and a couple of days later received the news that she had gone to heaven.
I told a friend at work that my Care Receiver had passed. My friend asked why I didn't leave and have a good cry. I laughed and said, "Because I know she's in Heaven now, trying to boss the angels around!" No, our relationship was never the soggy, tearful mess I had feared. Instead, we did life together, prayed together and faced her death with peaceful hearts, knowing she was going Home to be with her Savior. Thanks be to God!
Stephen Ministers are lay people trained to walk with a Care Receiver during any difficult period. It’s free, confidential, and available to anyone who asks; church membership is not required.
TMUMC is currently recruiting new Stephen Minister trainees. If you would like a Stephen Minister, contact Rev. Camille May at email@example.com or 972-539-8547 ext. 267.