He made that very clear from the start. To everyone who cared to listen (which weren’t many). Coming from a city in far northeast Texas many miles distant, he didn’t want to make the move of more than two hundred miles away from the home that he and his late wife had once shared together. He was just having a little trouble with his eyes. And his daughters insisted that he come to our community to live closer to them.
As he settled in, however, Mr. Khan slowly and surely began to take part in more and more of the activities. He gathered with the other men on the back porch in the afternoon and swapped stories—of which he had many. He got involved in readers’ theater, even writing some of the plays. He played the piano. He told jokes. He was a walking one-man vaudeville show. And, if I was bringing anyone through on a tour, I wanted them to meet Mr. Khan. Now, beloved by everyone, he was the emperor of our building.
One day, as I stood talking with him in the lobby (which I did about every day as he hardly stayed in his apartment), he said, “Tom, I see you’re becoming Jewish.” Puzzled, but expecting yet another joke from him, I slowly and warily asked, “How am I becoming Jewish, Mr. Khan?” “You’re growing a beard,” he said.
It took me a second to understand what he was saying. And then I was absolutely floored. You see, I had had a beard for well over six months—but due to his macular degeneration, he had never seen it before. For that one instant at just the right angle in just the right light, however, he saw my face. I thought to myself, “And this is the man who is practically running our building. What would have become of him if he had been left to sit alone on his couch hundreds of miles away from his daughters listening to his TV?”
Although you may think that the most loving thing you can do on your journey along that gray mile is to let a loved one remain at home (perhaps even with care), that isn’t necessarily so—even when they argue against a move. It happened with Mr. Khan. I’ve seen it happen to others. And I’ve listened, nodded my head and smiled as one senior after another in communities at which I’ve worked voice their one common, collective regret, “I wish I’d done it sooner.”