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 that 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 private practice in general surgery.
Following completion of medical school, I began my 4-year training in general surgery, and then I served for 2 years on active duty in the United States Air Force. I didn’t see them at all during that 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 2 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 that 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 that might be on the church’s schedule. During those early years of our membership in that 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 that I was the “best teacher and pastor” she had ever had, and was “praying that when the present pastor retired, I would be the one to take his place!” I attributed her enthusiastic endorsement to 2 things; first, her love of me for so many years, and secondly; her advancing dementia, which her family physician had diagnosed and had 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 that 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 was 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 in this position, and in her weakened state, was getting worse daily.
I went to her bed thinking that the sound of my voice would surely be recognized, considering what she had said about me 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 seeming recognition of my voice or my words. I went back to the nurse’s station and told the nurse that I agreed with her assessment of Louise’ pitiful state. The nurse said that the only name she seemed to recognize was the name “Jesus,” and said that 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 that had been dull. She had truly recognized and responded to the only name that her mind comprehended in her present state, and that name was the name of Jesus.
Louise did not live long after this, but the memory of her lives on in my heart. She taught me several things for which I am very grateful. She was a great encourager, early in my teaching experience, of my sincere but anemic efforts at teaching the Bible. Her words spurred me to spend more time in the Word and to prepare the messages in my life as well as in my mind. The greatest challenge from Louise; however, is that I need to be so in love with the Lord Jesus that when I might come to the time when I cannot recognize any other name, that like Louise, I will respond to His name; the name of Jesus- the name above all names!