Patricia C. Gallagher
Phone: 267 939 0365
I currently live in Chalfont, PA (a suburb of Philadelphia)
When the Sweetness Lingers On
“He sometimes cries like that, “the Activity Director said. “We are trying to talk him into coming to live here. We worry about him. He lives alone and sometimes he forgets to eat. He drives here every day.”
Ned held on to Nell’s hand in the dementia unit. His wife tried to stand up. He tugged her gently and said, “Nell, just sit down. Sit down, Darling.”
She moved over to the table where my props were placed. She was like a curious child whose parent needed to say, “Nell, don’t touch that. Leave it alone.”
She touched another resident’s hair. He rubbed her back. Put his arm over hers. Kept holding her hand; put his arm around her with a little bit of a hug attached.
That’s when I realized what I just experienced. True love. Unconditional love. It didn’t matter if money was in short supply anymore. Or if a hot water pipe burst on Christmas morning. Time? There was plenty of that now. But the expression on his face now? What was it? Heartbroken.
She seemed lost and so did he. But found in a way, too. He found everything that he loved about her as he looked at her face, the memories were not lost.
She wasn’t dressed fancy. Powder blue stretch pants, a pink ruffled blouse, no makeup or jewelry. He saw her as beautiful, inside and out. She didn’t seem to “know him.”
I thought of my favorite children’s classic book, “The Velveteen Rabbit.” The wise Skin Horse and Ned knew the secret of true love. “When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to just play with, but really loves you, then you become Real. It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all.”
Had Nell been in the choir? Did she make yummy meals with leftovers? Was he picturing her in an apron looking out the ruffled kitchen curtains into their yard – to the clothes drying on the clothesline?
Have you been married a while?
She’s been my bride for sixty years.
Ned, how long has Nell been here?
I guess about two years now.
His eyes were watery. It seemed like he was on the verge of tears the whole two hours that I was at the nursing home.
But not everyone is so lucky. Miss Sonya has no one.
“My people all died so it is just me. I had a baby boy but he passed away. Cora died last Tuesday. I miss her so much. Neither of us could walk so we spent all day talking in our beds and sitting in our wheelchairs. She didn’t have any people either. It is hard to get used to living somewhere. I have been here eight years and I am still not used to it. You know that fuzzy puppy that you gave to Cora Lee? She named him Roger. She loved Roger because she had a dog before she came in here and it was named Roger. You have to give up so much when you come in here.
I was a nurse. I am still registered down at City Hall. That’s the way it used to be – you had to be registered. I worked at PGH – that’s Philadelphia General Hospital. Remember the nurses’ caps we wore? Every hospital had different types. Mine had pleats at the top. See all of those stuffed animals? They are the ones you brought for me.”
We sang a few hymns. Just a verse or so of How Great Thou Art, Rock of Ages and Amazing Grace.
She cradled my mother’s hands. “Thanks so much for cheering me up. I don’t know what I am going to do without my room-mate Cora. She was the sister I never had.”
My mother and I left carrying a picture of Cora……with the sweet voice of Miss Sonya trailing after us, “Thanks so much for visiting me. Don’t be a stranger, you hear!”
I hated to leave her and the hundreds of other souls that do not have any visitors throughout the year. One activity director told me that 60 percent have no family or friends left. I wanted to say to Miss Sonya that better things were about to come into her life. But I couldn’t make that promise.
So who stops at CVS to buy her a bottle of Jean Nate cologne, Lifesavers, or a new housecoat? Who can she call when she is having a bad day?
The folks at the nursing home gave me a gift today – to appreciate the riches I have – my “people,” a clear mind, a best friend who is like a sister, my siblings, my mother and my whole family. I know it won’t always be that way but the lessons learned this week will be in my heart when that time comes.
The Skin Horse, Ned and Sonya know the secret of true love – about the sweetness that lingers even when the person that you love is no longer “with you” in some way.
Patricia Gallagher is the Director of the Stories for Seniors Programs and Operation Secret Santa for People in Nursing Homes. www.storiesforseniors.wordpress.com
Permission is granted to re-post or reprint for any reason. Please credit Patricia Gallagher.