The year was 1974 and I was working as a nurse’s aide in a local nursing home while attending Bible College. I went to work at eleven at night and got off work at seven the next morning. This particular night I was asked to cover for someone who was on vacation and so I was expecting a quiet night on the floor as most of the clients were not in need of a lot of care. I brought my books and was hoping to study but God had another plan. This night was anything but quiet because of one man, the dying cowboy.
The old gent and his wife shared a room. The couple reminded me so much of my Grandparents. He was tall and an old cowboy like my Grandpa while his wife was small, like my Grandma, and she was suffering with dementia, the reason they were in the nursing home. He began to yell and became agitated as I entered his room making the mandatory bed check as I began my shift. I knew that I had to calm him and quiet him or else he would awaken the whole floor of sleeping clients but he seemed to want to talk as something was on his mind. I asked him to be quiet and promised that I would return as soon as I completed my rounds and documentation. So he remained quiet for a time. I finished my rounds and was sitting at the nurse’s station having completed my work for the moment and I listened but heard no noise. I hoped the old gent had fallen asleep and so I began to open my books and begin a night of study. Soon, though, the old cowboy began to yell for help and I went to his room.
The old gent wanted to talk so I stood at his bedside and listened to what he had to say. The first thing he said to me was that he knew I was different the minute I walked into his room. I told him that I was new to the floor and was working for only the next three nights while someone was on vacation. He shook his head and said that he meant something else. He said, “You are different, you are a Christian, aren’t you?”
I was taken aback as I had no idea he could tell that I was a Christian and I answered to him that yes I was a Christian. He told me that he knew because he could see the light shining in me, like an angel. This was rather surprising to me and I made a mental note to check his chart and see what medications he was on, maybe he was having hallucinations. He seemed tired and I suggested to him that he sleep but he refused to close his eyes. Instead he grabbed my arm and said that he wanted me to stay and visit with him. I shook my head in agreement then asked him where he was from and to tell me a little about his life and prepared myself to listen to the old dying cowboy.
The man was born into a rancher’s family and had taken over the ranch when his father died. He loved the wide open spaces of Wyoming where his ranch was located. He loved working with the cattle and fighting the elements to scratch out a living from the land. It was what he did best and he told me all about his place and how his family had ranched for nearly a hundred years. He said that one of his three sons was now in charge of the ranch and he knew it was in capable hands. He told me how he remembered the stories of the range wars where the cattlemen fought to keep the land away from the sheep herders. I told him that I knew about those wars because my Grandparents had told me about my great-uncle who had been in Wyoming sometime in the late 1800’s. He was thinking about staking a claim and said that the land was worthless for farming but would be good for sheep herding and how he was scared by the range war and returned to Nebraska. The old cowboy smiled and said that it was probably some of his relatives who scared my great-uncle. We chuckled but we both knew that it had been a tough time in our ancestor’s lives. He told me how beautiful it was to watch the sun rise and set across his Wyoming spread. I believed him.
By this time it was well past night and into the wee hours of the morning and I suggested he get some sleep. His wife roused from her slumber and yelled at me that she needed help to go to the bathroom and so I helped her. As I tucked the woman back into her bed she asked me where her husband was and he gently told her he was in the next bed and for her to go back to sleep. I told him to get some rest and that I needed to check on the other clients. He understood that I needed to do my job and asked if I would be working the next night and I said that I would so he said he would be waiting for me because something was on his mind and he needed to tell me about it.
The next night as I began my shift the nurse I was relieving told me that the old cowboy at the end of the hall had been asking for me and asked if I knew him. I told her that I didn’t know him or his family but that he had wanted to talk the night before and so I had listened. She reminded me that my job was to help the clients to sleep and not chat all night. I knew this but I also knew that he had needed someone to listen to him so I ignored her warning and went to see the old gent.
“I have been waiting for you,” he said as I walked into the room. I smiled at him. “I thought you might have forgotten about me like so many do when you are old and useless.” I assured him that I had not forgotten but told him that I had gotten into a little trouble because I kept him up all night the night before. He seemed to take this rather seriously and said he was sorry if I got into trouble. I told him I could handle the scolding because that was all it was. He asked me to come back to talk to him after I made my bed check and I promised to do so.
I finished my rounds and then returned as the old gent had asked me to do. He seemed very upset and when I asked him what was troubling him he began to tell me about his Mother and how she had been a God-fearing Christian woman and how she attended an old Methodist church. He said that as a child he had accompanied her many Sundays to Church and Sunday School but that he had never gone forward to say that he believed in Jesus Christ. He was very upset about this lack of duty. He began to cry and told me how he always believed in God and even attended church sometimes. He was worried because he had never done anything about his belief and his Mother had tried so many times to get him to go to the front of the church but he was stubborn and didn’t. The more upset he became the louder his booming voice became to the point that an orderly from the next floor over came to see if I needed any help.
The charge nurse was working on the floor where the orderly was working and so he said that he would have her come over to see if she could give the man some medication to calm him down and sleep. I thought it was not going to help but I didn’t want to say why the man was so upset so I remained silent. I knew the orderly and charge nurse were not Christians and would probably not understand that the old cowboy was troubled in his soul and needed to repent and get right with God. The man promised the nurse that he would be quiet and stop bothering me. After she returned to her station on the other floor I returned to check on the old gent. When I entered his room he said that he knew I would come back and was glad that I had but was sorry he had been so loud and gotten me into trouble again. I patted his hand and said that was okay and could I pray for him.
He didn’t want me to pray for him not because he didn’t believe in prayer but he had always believed that a man’s prayers should be only between the man and his God. I asked if I could say a silent prayer with him and he thought for a moment and then said no, that he wanted to hear my prayer and to please say it out loud. I prayed that God would calm the man’s heart and help him to see that grace and mercy were there for him if he wanted the free gifts. I told God how honored I felt that the old cowboy had confided in me what was troubling him and asked God to send someone to help this man see he was loved by God. When I finished I asked him if I could call a minister to come talk with him but he declined my offer and told me that I was the only one he wanted to talk to because I understood him. Honestly I didn’t understand him except that I saw a man who had been too proud all his life to say he believed in God and now he was dying and knew he was dying and was regretting he had neglected God. I told him that he could tell me that he believed in God and that he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior and that he didn’t need to go before the church. He looked relieved and conflicted all at the same time. His deep regret at not going before his Mama’s church to confess that he believed Jesus was the son of God weighed heavily upon him. He was concerned that it might not be good enough to tell it just to me. I pointed out to him some scriptures of comfort and read them to him from a Bible in his room.
The next night when I came to work the nurses asked me what in the world had I been doing that had the man so stirred up. He had been loud and combative and they had sedated him to keep him from disturbing the other clients on the floor. I felt sad that he was so upset but felt that they were accusing me of something of which I wasn’t guilty. I told them that he had a guilty conscience and wanted to talk to me and all I did was listen but they didn’t believe me. I knew that I had to help this man but how? I prayed fervently that God would tell me what I was to do. I was told to stay away from the man’s room and if he yelled to call the charge nurse and they would have another aide or orderly attend to the man. I was silent and let them think I agreed. But I knew I had to see the man because he was frightened to meet God without Jesus by his side.
When the old cowboy called out I quickly went into his room and told him he had to remain quiet. He said he was glad it was me and he had to tell me that he loved God, he believed in God and he believed that Jesus Christ was God’s Son and that he wanted me to know he had made the decision to confess to me this truth. He said he hoped it would be good enough because he knew he was dying. I assured him that his confession to me was enough and encouraged him to let a minister talk to him if he had any doubts. He declined, he said he trusted me because he saw the light inside me and he didn’t see the light in the others. The charge nurse walked in and told me to leave the room and I had no choice but to do as ordered. I was transferred that night back to my own floor for bothering an old cowboy who was dying. The next day the man died but he died a peaceful death with his family around him. I hope to see him in heaven one day. The old cowboy who was too proud to admit he loved God until the end of his life. I am thankful he saw the light of Jesus inside of me and I am honored to have helped him in his journey to heaven.
Until next time…Katherine