By Alley Stonestreet, bilingual communications manager
As an interpreter, I know the cardinal rules: don’t show emotion, use proper pronouns, don’t say “he said” or “she said,” always use “I.” It’s hard to remember when you’re interpreting on the spot, but important to keep the conversation directed to the right people.
One of the first rules they teach you is not to get caught up in the emotion of what you’re interpreting.
I broke that rule for the first time recently.
I was asked to interpret an interview with two visiting nuns from Honduras alongside Loretta, writer and managing editor from the communications department at Unbound.
The interview started off smoothly.
We learned about Sister Marta’s work with the elderly. Sister Dinora told us of her work at an orphanage for young girls.
We learned that both partner with a local Kansas Catholic church that supports education of the orphaned girls through their own fundraising efforts and by sponsoring many of the young girls through Unbound. The sisters were being hosted by this church, and some of its members had accompanied them for the interview.
The details of Sister Marta’s work with the elderly soon became the focus of the interview. A very sweet woman with kind eyes spoke quietly about her admirable work with the aging population in the area where she works.
She told us, “The care of elderly people has always caught my attention because they are people who need a lot of our help.” At this particular home for aging “the majority are with us for a long time,” and she said that while some leave after they have recuperated, “for a lot of them, this is where they finish out their lives.”
At that moment, I felt a shift happen. Sister Marta became very deliberate in how she said what she said and began pacing the conversation as if she knew that the most important story was yet to come.
When asked what the greatest need for the emotional well-being of the elderly is, her response stunned me and brought most in the room to tears.
“We see that each person who comes has a void in their heart, in their person,” Sister Marta said, referring to the loneliness many elders feel when they first arrive at the elderly home where she works. “It’s really difficult to give them this love that we give them as family. But we do what we can to make them happy in their time with us,” Sister Marta replied. “This particular home is visited by some groups. And just for a small time, they are happy and that helps them a lot.”
Citing Christ as her main inspiration in doing what she does, Sister Marta exudes strength and resolve to continue on.
She smiled slightly, took a deep breath, and started to share her first experience at the home. “One time I received an elderly man who was waiting for a spot. He arrived with a beard and had not shaven and had nothing. He was very dirty, his clothes — everything.”
As she spoke, her voice trembled and the tears welled in her eyes as if it were the first time she told this story. “Before we did his paperwork, I said to take him to bathe. Have him bathe and then take him to the dining room to see what he wants to eat.”
She paused, as if to allow me to catch up. When I looked up, our eyes connected and it was too late — I got caught. In that moment, all of my training disappeared. I continued jotting down notes to help keep the information straight but this time with tears welling up.
“And he said to me, first I want to eat. I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve eaten,” she continued.
Sister Marta paused a moment to collect herself as I handed her a tissue and held her hand in a moment of comfort and solidarity. She continued, “And after that, I will bathe whenever you like.”
“That was one of my first experiences.”
Hearing Sister Marta’s story touched each of us sitting in the room. An experience of that nature changes you and gives you pause to reflect on what is most important.
Wrapping up, her final comment captured the essence of why she does what she does.
“I feel that what helps [the elderly] is knowing that there are people in this world who care about their well-being,” she said.
Let an elderly person know someone cares. Sponsor an elder today.