Louise Wood was a friend of my family before I was born, but I didn’t get to know her well until her husband Harold sold my Dad a life insurance policy on me while I was in medical school. When I came home for vacation from school I would occasionally visit them. Harold could see I was remaining healthy, and I could catch them up on my medical training progress. They knew very well the rigors of that training since their only son was a successful physician living in Texas. I enjoyed the stories they told me about his experiences in medical school and how much he was enjoying his private practice in general surgery.
Following completion of medical school I began my five year training in general surgery, and then I served for two years on active duty in the United States Air Force. I didn’t see them at all during this stretch of time. When my wife Cathy and I moved back to my hometown to begin my surgical practice we became reacquainted with the Woods since we attended the same church. By this time Harold was in poor health, and despite the best care he died from complications of a stroke within two years of our move. Louise was alone, but had excellent support from her close friends and fellow church members.
Louise was a faithful church member, and was the type of member who was literally present “every time the church doors opened.” She especially loved her Sunday School class and according to her also loved participating in any additional Bible studies which might be on the church’s schedule. During those early years of our membership in the church I was glad to volunteer for additional teaching assignments and was occasionally assigned to teach Louise’s class of senior adult ladies. I could always count on Louise giving me high praise for my teaching even when I felt I had not done a very good job. On more than one occasion she told me I was the “best teacher and pastor” she had ever had, and was “praying when the present pastor retired I would be the one to take his place!” I attributed her enthusiastic endorsement to two things, her love of me for so many years and her advancing dementia. Her family physician had diagnosed her early and alerted me to this new and debilitating condition.
Cathy and I changed churches as a result of some doctrinal differences, and we did not see Louise for a long period of time perhaps a year. I had heard she had declined rapidly and was no longer able to care for herself. She had to be admitted to a nursing home for total care. While making rounds one day at the hospital I stopped in the ICU and noticed a chart with Louise Wood’s name and asked the nurse about her. She said, “Mrs. Wood is so pitiful, because she does not recognize anyone, and is withdrawn into a fetal position with not even the slightest acknowledgement of any effort to help her.” She had developed pneumonia and in her weakened state was getting worse daily.
I went to her bed thinking the sound of my voice would surely be recognized considering what she had said in the past. I said, “Louise, this is John Henry, and I have come to see you and pray for you.” Her back was turned to me, and I repeated what I had said while touching her shoulder. There was not the slightest movement in her body and absolutely no visible recognition of my voice or my words. I went back to the nurse’s station and told the nurse I agreed with her assessment of Louise’ pitiful state. The nurse said the only name she seemed to recognize was the name “Jesus,” and I should go back to her bed and mention His name. This time I said to Louise, “This is John Henry and I have come to tell you about Jesus!” Very slowly she began to move while turning her head toward the sound of my voice allowing me to see the slight smile on her face and the faint glimmer in those eyes which had become dull. She had recognized and responded to the only name her mind comprehended in her present state, and it was the name of Jesus.
Louise did not live much longer, but her memory lives in my heart. She taught me several things for which I am very grateful. She was a great encourager early in my teaching experience and challenged me to spend more time in the Word and to be an encourager of others. What I will most remember about Louise is I need to be so in love with the Lord Jesus as she was for most of her life. The time may come when I cannot recognize the sound of any other name, but like Louise I will respond to His name. Jesus- the name above all names!