As we got into our car, I turned to Halis and said, “Why does it have to be like this?” …. He replied, “What?” …. “Getting old,” I said, “Why does it have to be so hard and lonely? I mean, it shouldn’t be like that.”
I have tried to write this post — in my head — since Christmas Day. I am just not certain that I can properly articulate the depth of both the beauty and the sadness I encountered when visiting our local Veterans Home for Christmas (a “rest” home, long-term care facility for veterans). It was a wonderful experience overall, and I intend to make more regular visits because of it. But, it was not without its difficult moments…
Halis, Isaac and I arrived at the Home after supper on Christmas Day. We brought arm loads of gifts for 9 of the residents — people whom we knew were not going to be receiving visitors that day. We arrived with a basket of my mom’s homemade goodies, a soft fleece blanket and a wrapped gift (or two) for each of the residents we were visiting. We had our list of names and their room numbers, and we set off to share gifts, smiles, stories and friendship with each one.
Our first visit was so lovely. This elderly man was so incredibly excited to receive visitors that he was absolutely stunned and tickled at the same time. We gave him our gifts, hugs (after asking permission), and chatted with him about his room, his music collection, etc. He was so thankful … and he gave us such warm feelings. I felt so blessed to be able to make him smile so big … just by sharing time with him.
And that was pretty much how the all the visits went. We entered each room after asking their permission, wished them a Merry Christmas, shared our gifts, and chatted awhile about whatever came to mind. Every person (except one) was happy with our visit … and so were we. Some had varying degrees of dementia. One man believed me to be a relative of his, and I played along. He also believed that the gifts I was bringing to him were gifts that I had stolen … and that they were from his dentist. I told him that I was simply admiring them and asked him if he would like help opening them. As we opened them together, he showed me what they were and asked me not to take them again. And again, I played along. One woman was so enamored by the way I wrapped her gift, that as we were leaving her room, I watched her try to rewrap it. One man began devouring my mom’s goodies the moment he received them. All went very well … and Isaac was better behaved than I expected. But there are 2 visits that were somewhat “difficult”… at least emotionally …
One particular man told us that he had only been there for a month, in order to heal his back, and that he was looking forward to taking a fishing trip at Grand Lake Stream in the spring. After taking a look around his room, it was obvious that he had been a resident there for well over a year or so … and that he would not be taking a fishing trip anytime soon. It broke my heart … and I just wanted to put him in my car and take him fishing anywhere he wanted.
The other visit was quite unexpected. In fact, he was not on our list, but the head nurse told us that he had not received any visitors that day and wondered if we had any goodies left. We did, so we paid a visit to Raymond. He was like no other resident that we had visited. He felt like family right away (perhaps it is because he reminded me of my Pepere who passed away several years ago). Raymond was warm, funny, flirtatious, and lucid. He was the only resident that Isaac took to and happily played with. But he was also quite sad. He had been desperately hoping to see his daughter for Christmas. It seems she dropped him off to the home just weeks before and has had little time for him since. Prior to his stay at the home, he lived with his daughter (and son-in-law) and is having such a hard time feeling so alone. Telling us his story nearly broke my heart … and it brought him to tears. Halis and I did our best to cheer him, but what else could we do? We stayed with him for longer than we did the other residents, and when we left, I hugged and kissed him, promising that Isaac and I would return soon. He stared straight through me while holding my hand and emphatically stated, “Really. Thank you. Really. For spending time with me. It is the most important thing we can do for one another. I truly appreciate it.” And tears welled up in his eyes … and mine.
That night I cried myself to sleep, thinking of Raymond & the other residents all the while. My visit with them was wonderful … but also heart-wrenching. No one should be “left” behind. No one should feel so alone. The following morning, I KNEW that Raymond was going to be a part of my life from now on … that Isaac and I would visit him as much as possible … and that I would do everything I could to be sure that Isaac grows up valuing the wisdom, emotional well-being and beauty of the elderly. Halis and I surely did.
So, tomorrow afternoon, I am going to surprise Raymond with another visit … and feel blessed by his company. I so look forward to it. I am thankful that some sort of divine intervention brought us together in the first place … as he was never on my Secret Santa list in the first place.
Life can be so damn beautiful when we open our hearts to others … and to the possibilites of every day that we are given. And as Raymond reminded me … the most important thing we can give one another is time.
Thank you for reading this post. I hope I articulated it well enough to maybe prod someone out there to spend some quality time with an elder in their life who may be feeling lonely… or perhaps to inspire someone to make a visit to their local long-term care facility. You will be glad you did.