One of my first real acts of volunteerism, that I can truly say I devoted myself wholeheartedly to, was volunteering with the elderly. I remember the summer day that my mom signed me up to volunteer at the old convalescent home. I can clearly remember the halls of the home, the smell and the light. There were hollers and crying, laughing and smiling, random handshakes and stone faces.
After a quick tour of the home I was introduced to the friendliest residents. The ones who swung open their small room doors with a smile and a hug ready and on occasion even a kiss. One of the very first residents I met was a small and squeaky woman. Her room was decked out in doilies and every nail on her hand was manicured to perfection. I cannot remember her name but I will never forget her story.
On the wall there was a classic 1940’s picture of a woman with a long white lace dress that was fit for a princess. The princess was standing tall next to a man with a well-tailored suit. She sat still in her chair and smiled at me as I gazed at her photo. Not knowing what to say to her I looked at the picture for a while and asked, “Is this you?”
“Oh yes, it is!” Her eyes lit and she clasped her hands. “That is my husband and that is the day we got married”. She started to tell me about how in love they were and how the times were much different back then. She would giggle every so often and not tell me why. She must have been remembering some moment in time that could never be forgotten. After she told me all about her serious looking husband she went on to show me her doilies.
A week later I was back, and I made a bee-line through the hallway to her room. I looked in the door and there she was sitting exactly where she was the previous week, looking out towards the door. I gently knocked and was eagerly greeted to sit. As I got comfortable she looked at the wedding photograph which hung next to the door. This time I mentioned how beautiful the lace dress was. Immediately she began to tell me her story. And as I listened, I realized it was the same exact story as the week before, filled with the same unexplained giggles. It was then that I realized that she had no idea who I was.
I sat there for an hour every week during the summer of 2001 and listened to her story of love and life. I began to prompt the story of her wedding every time I visited, because I could see the delight that it brought to her to share. It must have been Alzheimer’s that she suffered from in those days of her life. Like a thief in the night it came and stole my friend from me. As the summer came to an end and school was about to start-up again I was unsure as how to say goodbye. It is hard to say goodbye to someone who does not remember you, as it is hard to not over step your boundaries. I gave her a quick hug and nervously left that summer afternoon.
About a year later I returned and nervously walked down the hall to her room. When I got to the door there was no one there to greet me. I looked in and all the doilies were gone and no picture hung next to the door. As I think back, to how she was always staring out the door, I realize that she was probably staring at the picture of her wedding day. Constantly, reminding her self of a moment that was not to be overcome by old age. I like to think that she is with her prince charming of a husband.