Every month the youth group at River Road Church visited Holcomb Manor, a local nursing home, to do the church services for the people who stayed there. Daryl Jenkins, a reluctant youth group volunteer and former alcoholic, didn’t like nursing homes and had avoided the services. But because of a flu epidemic, Daryl was asked to join a depleted group of sponsors to help with next month’s service. He agreed to go as long as he didn’t have to be part of the program.
The day of the service, Daryl felt awkward and out of place. While the service was in progress, Daryl leaned against the back wall, between two residents in wheelchairs. Just as the service finished and Daryl thought about a quick exit, someone grabbed his hand. Startled, Daryl looked down to see a very old man in a wheelchair holding on to his hand tightly. The man was very old, frail, and obviously lonely. What could Daryl do but hold his hand back? Oliver Leak was his name, his 91-year-old frame bent and twisted, his face covered with deep wrinkles, and his mouth open most of the time. Oliver’s face was expressionless, and Daryl doubted whether the man could hear or see anything.
As everyone began to leave, Daryl realized he didn’t want to leave the old man—he’d been left too many times in his long life. Confused by his feelings, Daryl leaned over to Oliver and whispered, »I’m…uh...sorry. I have to leave, but I’ll be back. I promise.« Without any warning, Mr. Leak responded by squeezing Daryl’s hand and then let go. Daryl’s eyes filled with tears, and he grabbed his stuff and started to leave. Inexplicably, Daryl heard himself say to the old man, »I love you.« (Where did that come from? What’s the matter with me?)
Daryl came back the next month…and the month after that. The routine was the same: Daryl would stand in the back, Mr. Leak would grab his hand, Daryl would say he had to leave, Mr. Leak would squeeze his hand, and Daryl would say softly, »I love you, Mr. Leak.« (He had learned his name, of course.) Soon Daryl would find himself all week looking forward to visiting his old friend.
On Daryl’s sixth visit, he could tell something was wrong. Mr. Leak wasn’t at the service. Daryl wasn’t too concerned at first because it often took the nurses a long time to wheel everyone out. But as the service went on, Daryl became alarmed. He went to the head nurse. »Um, I don’t see Mr. Leak here today. Is he okay?« The nurse asked Daryl to follow her, and she led him to Room 27 where Oliver lay in his bed, his eyes closed, his breathing uneven. At 40 years of age, Daryl had never seen someone dying, but he knew Oliver was near death. Slowly he walked to the side of the bed and grabbed his hand. Oliver was unresponsive, and it didn’t take long for the tears to come for Daryl. They had never spoken, and Daryl knew he might never see Oliver alive again. So much he wanted to say, but the words wouldn’t come out. They were together about an hour when the youth director gently interrupted Daryl to say they were leaving.
Daryl stood to leave and squeezed Mr. Leak’s hand for the last time. »I’m sorry, Oliver, I have to go. I love you.« As he unclasped his hand, he felt a squeeze. The tears were unstoppable now. Daryl stumbled toward the door, trying to gain his composure.
A young woman was standing at the door, and Daryl almost bumped into her. »I’m sorry,« he said, »I didn’t see you.«
»It’s all right, I’ve been waiting to see you,« she said. »I’m Oliver’s granddaughter. He’s dying, you know.«
»Yes, I know.«
»I wanted to meet you,« she went on, "When the doctors said he was dying, I came immediately. We were very close. They said he couldn’t talk, but he always talked to me. Not much, but I knew what he was saying. Last night he woke up. His eyes were bright and alert. He looked straight into my eyes and said, ’Please say goodbye to Jesus for me,’ and he lay back down and closed his eyes. I whispered to him, ’Grandpa, I don’t need to say goodbye to Jesus. You’re going to be with him soon, and you can tell him hello.’ He struggled to open his eyes again, but this time his face lit up with a mischievous smile that he only gave to me, and he said as clearly as I’m talking to you, ’I know, but Jesus comes to see me every month, and he might not know I’ve gone.’ He closed his eyes and hasn’t spoken since.
»I told the nurse what he said, and she told me about you coming every month, holding his hand. I wanted to thank you for him, for me, and…well…I never thought of Jesus being as chubby and bald as you, but I imagine Jesus is very glad to have been mistaken for you. I know Oliver is. Thank you.« She leaned over and kissed Daryl on the forehead. Oliver Leak died peacefully the next morning.
May God give us more volunteers like Daryl Jenkins