In this week's Freckled Mind, our always insightful guest blogger Freckles discusses the importance of remembering to show the important people in your life that you love them. Everyone needs to know that someone cares. You can be that caring person.
"Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For indeed, that's all who ever have"
- Margaret Mead -
Dust motes sparkled in the sunshine beams coming through the room that was just a touch too cold. There was a far off, distant look in the paling eyes of a time-worn, aging face. There was a smell of aftershave, sore muscle cream, and a hint of the medical environment just past the door. His wheel chair sat just short of the window’s streaming light, his weathered hands rested overlapping in his lap covered by a homemade crochet blanket.
This is my sharpest memory of my first trip to the Nursing Home. I was volunteering in any way I could at a younger age, so I had asked to help clean the rooms of the patients by mopping and dusting. I cannot forget this particular encounter that taught me the value of time and gratitude.
A fedora of gray plaid was hanging on a hook just behind the door against the light olive green wall. Beside it was a man’s sweater and a matching scarf. The hospital floor tiles were already gleaming but I was there to mop them regardless. I quietly knocked on the door not wanting to startle him with my entry. I saw him raise one of the gnarled hands from his lap and just wave me in while still looking out of the window. I hesitantly entered and softly told him I was here to do the cleaning for the morning shift, was there anything he needed done?
A cynical smirk passed for only a moment before his faded blue eyes glanced at me as he said he needed nothing, please continue. I began mopping immediately, then moved to dusting the furniture. That smirk stayed with me, nagging my conscience. As I made it to the frames of his family I gently smiled seeing the group all together giving silly faces for the camera. He must have seen me because suddenly a raspy and deep baritone voice said, “Interesting group aren’t they?” I looked at him and said, “It’s a cute picture.” I felt myself blushing having been caught being a little nosey while dusting.
He gave a short huff of laughter and gripped the blanket in his lap tighter. He very quietly said, “My sister who passed more than four years ago sent me that picture about six years ago.” I looked a bit closer hoping to point out his sister. As I was doing so he rolled closer and as if reading my mind, pointed her out. I said she was lovely. He said, “Yeah she was. She’s long gone now and so are they.” I gasped, “All of them are gone?!” Absolute heartbreak and sympathy gripped my heart.
He told me, “They are for me.” He then rolled back to the window. I looked out of the window to see what he watched. The leaves outside were all gently falling in ravishing reds, blazing oranges and the brightest of yellows. I admired them a moment thinking they were lovely when I noticed the visiting picnic tables were hosting the elderly and their families who visited. Some were stoic while listening to younger ones at their table while others were laughing at what were obviously their great grandchildren's antics.
I wanted to ask more, but felt it would be rude. I put the now perfectly dusted frame in place and began to clean the window. His quietly cracking baritone voice asked me if I had any family in a place like this. “No sir.” I replied. He nodded a little. Then he continued on in the same voice never taking his eyes off the picnic tables, “When Nora passed on, no one remembered I’m here. She had slowly become the only one to send me cards and pictures. Then she got sick, and no one but her husband, my brother in law who passed on in the same year, even bothered to call.”
He described how he tried to call her children and check on them to see how they were handling her death, and no one ever called him back. His own children had moved several states away following where their work took them. Slowly no news followed about his family either. He was still staring out the window as he told me,
“I am a man with family in this world, and no one remembers I am their family too.”
I admit I began to cry with such a strong urge to hug him. I wanted to comfort this man who had for so many years been in this sterile and cold environment with no family, that he knew was out there, ever wanting anything to do with him again! I completed my tasks and asked him gently if I would be allowed to visit with him sometime. He briskly yet gently told me, “No thank you ma’am. I appreciate your kindness but now find I would rather be this way.”
I knew deep down the lie for what it was, and the painful place that it came from. I respected his wishes, but I did ask the manager before completing my hours if there was anyway they would contact his family; it was almost Thanksgiving after all. He told me that it was something they would love to do, but with a saddened face disclosed that they were not allowed to interfere. He did wink and mention he would be making sure their pamphlets were mailed to some specific address however. I smiled a little but knew how easily they could be overlooked.
As I walked in the brisk autumn air to my car, leaves swirling around my feet, I looked back at that man’s window, unable to see him. The wind that played with my red locks, pushing them into my face to stick on my lip gloss, also carried the sound of the families still remaining at the tables to my chilled ears. I decided then and there I would make a new pen pal if I could.
He never responded to any of my letters, but one day a nurse friend of mine called me to tell me he was smiling fondly when he read them. So, I continued until I was told a year later he had passed. I cried so hard. So very hard. I cried for days.
I was unable to sleep that night. I sat in the window seat of my apartment and just stared for so many hours thinking of this poor man I had met that day. To me, he was poor. I began to realize just how valuable and wonderful my family were to me. How distant we had become. How much I would miss them if they died tomorrow or that very night. I bowed and prayed out my gratitude for all the loved ones I was blessed to have. I prayed my heart out in gratitude for the time I have been allowed with them and I prayed I would have as much as I could get.
As the Holidays here in the United States come around this memory is ever so bold in my mind and heart to the extent of tears. If you are so blessed to still have your elders in your life, I sincerely hope that you may be together as often as you can. If you happen to know of a facility in your area, perhaps volunteer your time, make a handmade lap blanket to donate, or even just write letters of kindness to a beautiful soul; they have so much wisdom to share.
If this idea could be shared with kind souls all over the world, if it could be seen through... Oh! What a booming ripple effect this could make for the betterment of our word! I sincerely wish all the elders could be shown the respect they are due, the love they have sewn, and the beauty of relationships still lovingly being cherished.
If you want to get involved with making a difference for elders in your community, all you have to do is listen! Our partners at DoSomething.org have an amazing way for you to make a difference: swap stories with an older adult to decrease isolation. Learn more and sign up here and be entered to win a $5,000 scholarship.