I have a friend who has a son, almost 30 years old, who had a severe brain injury about 25 years ago. I will call him Sam in this post. Since that time, the young man has been paralyzed and can't respond in meaningful ways to most of what happens to him every day. At least that is how it seems until you get to know him better.
I stayed with this friend for a while and since I lived with them, I helped to put Sam to bed on the nights he was with us. I was initially fearful that I would hurt him or somehow make him sick through my contact with him. It was hard to know where to look, or what to say to someone who seems not to be there. My friend talked to him and provided his care and loved on him, I talked to her, asked questions, and eventually came to recognize some ways that Sam responded or reacted to us. I became part of the family.
I once saw Sam laugh, silently laugh, but unmistakably laugh at a funny situation. I was aware of his making the system "alarm" just to say "hi," or so it seemed. I saw him have a seizure and I saw unmistakable pain written all over his face at times. I have seen him be wakeful and sleepy. Usually he is peaceful and patient and calm. Sam is a good listener, he is the strong silent type.
I never truly learned to do the nursing type care for Sam that his mother provides each day. There is a nurse at home with him during the day, and a parent provides care at night. I can't be left alone with Sam because I can't handle the emergency care he might need at any moment. My friend and I grew closer as we talked about our lives and put Sam to bed.
A couple of months ago I moved out. It was time for me to restart my life and enjoy more privacy and responsibility. I love my new digs. I have rarely been lonely and if anything, I am so busy I don't have time to even finish the unpacking. But, sometimes when it is quiet and time to turn in for the night, I think of putting Sam to bed. It is a process that involves a lot of steps. But, I can't even explain or understand fully myself the joy of caring for another. The profound love that I experience as part of the ceremony of putting Sam down for the night is something I miss.
It happens that I go to my friend's house a couple of times a month and when I do, I help to put the boy to bed. It is grace. It is profound love to witness and take part in the care of this life so dependent on us for each aspect of life.