I’ve met many seniors at the nursing facility where I’ve been doing my internship over the past few months. Some of them are still very sharp minded, despite their age, while others are “pleasantly confused “. Both types have a host of interesting stories to share. I would love to sit down with every one of them to hear about what things were like when they were young, WW2 and Vietnam, being married to the same person for 50+ years, watching their children grow and have children of their own, etc. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to get my work done and spend more than just a few minutes at a time chatting with the residents, although I try. I can’t count how many times I’ve told someone “I’ll come back and see you real soon”, only to have days, even weeks, pass before I’m knocking at their door again, and not for a social call.
Ya just never know…
Part of me feels very guilty for not keeping my promises. So many of these poor people have no family and very few visitors, if any. I think of a time, many years ago, when I went with my family to visit my grandfather. He was living in an “Adult community” somewhere near Sarasota and when we left, I told him that my best friend and I would go back to visit him sometime soon. I never did take that drive. A year or 2 later, he came to visit and reminded me to go see him. Some years after that, he passed away and all I could think of was that promise I didn’t keep.
He was a good man. Always sent my brother and I cards with money for every holiday and birthday when we were growing up…never missed a year. Despite the fact that I didn’t see much of him in the years before he passed, I had plenty memories of his visits from when I was a kid. My heart broke to think that I couldn’t do that one thing for him before he died: give him some company, let him know I loved him and appreciated everything he ever did. Ya just never know….
Recently I was reminded of that experience when one of the residents at the home unexpectedly passed away. She had traveled the world and had a shelf full of photo albums from her many excursions. I told her more than once that I’d stop by to have a look and would love to hear all about her adventures, especially since I’ve only been outside of the US twice. She was still so full of life! Hair and makeup always done, fingernails painted…Her memory had started to go but otherwise she was pretty with it.
The day that she passed, she was having a fit because she was no longer allowed to keep her wheelchair by her bed, for safety reasons. She had fallen more than once in the last few weeks. “I’d rather die than live this way!” she groaned. And who could blame her?!? You go your whole life without needing any assistance from anyone to being almost completely dependent and having to press a call light to then wait 5-20 mins for someone to come help you get to the bathroom?!?! Well sure enough, she was true to her word. Later that night, her COPD flared up and she was taken to the hospital where she died.
I heard the news the following day and immediately thought of the stories I would I would never hear.
Now, I’m not saying I’m an awful person because I didn’t go visit as I said I would. People die: There’s no way around it. I definitely would have felt better though, had I kept my word sooner rather than later, because once they’re gone, they’re GONE.
What I mean to say is that random acts of kindness are good for the soul. Even if you find that a friend or family member is getting under your skin, take the time to say “thank you” or “I love you”, keep your promises as best you can, pick up the phone, do something thoughtful to make them smile. Then when the time comes to say goodbye, your conscience will be clear and you’ll be able to smile through the tears.