When I started working in senior living a number of years ago, my wife had a word of caution to me. Knowing how attuned I already was to seniors and how empathetic I was (and am), she warned me to “not become like those old people.” Happy for the job as the assisted living’s new marketing director, I smiled and went off to work.
During my tenure there I got to know a number of the residents quite well. One of the residents, who I’ll call Miss Mary, still sticks in my mind. Miss Mary had had a very long life, but, as everyone in the facility knew, she was dying.
One day I had the opportunity to take Miss Mary to a doctor’s appointment. We both knew that it was quite possible that he would direct her to go immediately to the hospital—from which she would never return home again. I waited for her until she came out to learn she had talked the doctor out of it—for now. She could return to the assisted living community.
I went outside to pull the car around to the curb and then opened the door to the doctor’s office so she could use her walker to walk the twenty feet or so to the car door. Slowly, she’d walk one, two, three steps and stop to breathe. One, two, three steps and stop to breathe. About midway to the car, she stopped, lifted her head to listen and asked, “Is that a cardinal or a mockingbird?” I said, “I don’t know, but it’s in the tree up there.” She squinted up into the tree and said, “Ahh, mockingbird.” She then lowered her head and once again began her slow journey.
A week or two later, I had the opportunity again to take her to the same physician—with the same possibility. This time, however, Miss Mary’s pleas were not as successful. She would not be going back to the assisted living. Instead, we were to go directly to the hospital.
In the car along the way, she suddenly got flustered. I asked what was wrong. She shook her head and said, “I forgot to put on my lipstick.” She then smiled and said, “Isn’t that just like an old lady—to worry about her makeup on the way to the hospital?” “Do you want me to pull over?” I asked. She thought about it a moment, shook her head again and said, “Nah, let’s go.”
Much to our joy, she did eventually return to our assisted living. Now, however, she was beyond our care and was on hospice. We watched as the hospice folks would arrive, slightly downcast, because she was one of their favorite people, too. When they left, however, they were always smiling. She just had that effect on people. Even when Miss Mary was dying and knew it, her joy in the smallest things, her sense of humor and her faith in God radiated out like a bright light to everyone she encountered.
When I started to work in senior living, my wife warned me to not become like those old people. When I walk that gray mile, I hope, I wish, I pray that I can become like her.