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by Abigail Van Buren

Human Touch Helps to Heal Lonely Residents in Home

DEAR ABBY: I just read your answer to the director of a nursing home in Oklahoma who wrote about a woman whose mother had died in a nursing home. Rather than place flowers on her mother's grave, the daughter took them to a nearby nursing home and left them with a friendly note for a resident who had never had a visitor.

That certainly struck home with me. I've seen the same act of kindness many times, and can't tell you how much these small gestures mean to lonely elders who have outlived family and friends. The average age of nursing home residents is 85. It affirms their worthiness and restores an important connection to the larger community.

But I would also like to plead, in this case, that the woman actually meet the resident and give her the flowers in person. She needn't say much -- just a quick hello, a brief introduction, a warm handclasp would do. Human touch is healing. It's encouraging. It's life-affirming.

I don't mean to belittle her anonymous act. That's a wonderful step, and if that's all she's able to do she has done more than most people would. I would just encourage her to take the next step. It would make all the difference in the world to that nursing home resident, who would be forever grateful. She might even make a great new friend -- someone, perhaps, like her mother. -- BRENT H. NETTLE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SAN FRANCISCO MINISTRY TO NURSING HOMES

DEAR MR. NETTLE: Thank you for your sweet letter. I, too, thought the idea of providing flowers to a nursing home resident on Mother's Day was touching and generous. But not all my readers would agree with the wisdom of revealing the residents' identities. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: In response to "Anonymous in Oklahoma," who suggested that readers send flowers or gifts to those at nursing facilities rather than leaving flowers at a grave:

While this gesture would surely be appreciated, I would question the judgment of any nursing facility that would reveal the name of a patient, especially a patient without a family, i.e., heirs. While I believe that the woman who contacted "Anonymous in Oklahoma" was honest, not everyone is. A nursing home should, under no circumstances, disclose the names of its residents.

This reader obviously had her heart in the right place. However, in light of the often dishonest world we live in, where most scams target the elderly, it's much safer to suggest that readers send flowers to the nursing home and ask that they be delivered at the facility's discretion to a resident in need.

I have family members in nursing homes across the country and am unable to visit them as often as I would like, although they are always in my thoughts and prayers. I would be horrified to discover that a nursing home staff member had given the name of one of my relatives to a stranger.

While we should all perpetuate random acts of kindness, it is also important for caregivers and care facilities to respect and protect the privacy of their patients. -- CAREGIVER IN LA CANADA, CALIF.

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