I Can’t Do a Thing

I Can’t Do a Thing

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith

I Can’t Do a Thing

Wilma poured the puréed mixture of chicken and vegetables into a bowl, then touched a spoonful to her lips, testing the temperature for her sister, Adah. Adah had lived with Wilma and her husband for several years before her paralysis began. It first appeared as only a slight slowing of Adah’s movements when she lifted a fork to her mouth. Then the day came when she couldn’t push herself up from the table. The next morning she fell as she got out of bed.

Wilma made a doctor’s appointment immediately, and a wearying round to specialists began. Finally, they received the dreaded diagnosis. Adah had super-progressive nuclear palsy—a mean cousin to Parkinson’s disease that would gradually stiffen her muscles and paralyze her.

The next couple of years passed far too quickly, each month bringing more debilitation, until Adah’s condition forced her to a walker, then a wheelchair and finally to bed. Adah’s nieces and nephews remembered how they used to have trouble keeping up with this active woman when she escorted them to town. They missed her lessons in family history given as she mended their blue jeans or embroidered pillowcases for their weddings. Now her hands lay twisted and still upon the quilt covering her frail body. The change was so painful for many of the relatives, they stopped coming by, choosing instead to send another card that Wilma taped to the wall above Adah’s railed bed.

Wilma, only two years younger and not in the best of health herself, took care of Adah—bathing her, turning her, feeding her, and trying to rub the achy pain out of a tired body that only vaguely resembled the woman her sister had once been.

One day had been particularly difficult when Adah managed to whisper apologetically, “I can’t do a thing.” Wilma patted her arm, fighting back tears as she said a silent prayer: “Lord, give me something encouraging to say.”

The answer came in a sudden brainstorm. “Adah, you can still pray,” Wilma said. “Goodness knows the family needs plenty of that. Thea and the children left this morning for a long drive. Will you pray for them?”

Adah smiled and whispered, “I will.”

During the next several weeks, each time Wilma received word of a particular need, she passed it along to her sister. When a neighbor mentioned his brother was facing a series of complicated medical tests, Wilma assured him of her prayers. Then she added, “And I’ll tell Adah, too. She’ll pray the whole time he’s in the hospital.”

A few days later the elated neighbor called. The doctors had decided his brother’s problem could be controlled with medication. Surgery wouldn’t be necessary after all.

When one of the men at church lost his job because the small company where he’d worked for twelve years closed, Wilma told Adah. The man found work the next month.

Gradually, folks began to hear about Adah’s constant prayers and started calling with requests. Sometimes a worried mother called about an ill child; sometimes a child called about an ailing pet. Once a gruff husband called, clearing his throat several times before finally saying that well, yes, he, uh, had heard that Adah was a praying woman. Would she, uh, pray for his marriage?

Sometimes Adah’s family wondered aloud how those prayers affected Adah herself. They couldn’t help but notice that even in the midst of her pain, she possessed a graciousness and peace not expected from one so bound to a disease-captured body. Perhaps her concentration on others pulled her thoughts away from her own situation. Perhaps her constant prayerfulness wrapped her in God’s grace.

Day after day the requests came, and day after day Adah whispered her prayers. The time came, though, when her voice faded totally. When she didn’t whisper her usual morning greeting, Wilma pulled the bed rail down to comfort her sister with a hug. Then she said, “Adah, even if you pray only in your mind, the Lord hears you.” Adah nodded.

Then one morning as Wilma relayed yet another prayer request, Adah only stared at her, unable to nod her acknowledgment. Wilma silently prayed for her sister’s suffering, then patted her on the arm. “That’s okay, Adah, honey. You just blink your eyes to answer me; one blink will mean yes, two blinks will mean no. Now, do you understand that Josie called to ask you to pray about moving her widowed mother?”

Adah blinked once. Yes, she understood.

That was the beginning of Adah’s third and final year, still praying for others, until God released her.

Today, relatives are grateful that she is free after years of painful paralysis, yet they miss her still. They know Adah’s prayers lifted their pain—and Adah straight to heaven.

~Sandra Picklesimer Aldrich

Chicken Soup for the Caregiver’s Soul

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