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Little Things Can Mean So Much

June 6, 2017

Another Way for week of June 2, 2017

Little Things Can Mean So Much

I noticed a lone tear slip down his cheek. He choked up as soon as we told him our youngest daughter had been able to come with us to visit on Easter afternoon at the nursing home where he’s been living about six months.

I would say he was obviously happy to see her, except he can barely see. But he knew a third shape was with us. He has always had such a tender heart for children, deer (“I could never be a hunter!”), his cats, and earlier, a dog.

Charles, our former neighbor and longtime friend, is one of approximately 1.3 million folks living in a health care facility, (2012 figures according to the Institute on Aging.) The move was not really his choice but I think we all knew the day was coming. He’s quite a survivor, having lived and thrived with a frozen, unbendable right knee (injured long ago) most of his life.

For years he and his beloved wife Letha were among the original farmers who sold home grown produce at the Harrisonburg Farmer’s Market—now the cool, upscale place to be every Saturday morning. Back then it was mostly subsistence part-time farmers who supplemented meager incomes by selling a few vegetables under a parking deck from backs of pickup trucks. Charles and Letha planted hundreds of spring onions and were usually the first vendors to offer them at the market each February.

My husband pushing Charles’ wheelchair over the bumpy terrain.

Letha died 13 years ago this month; life has been lonely but livable for Charles ever since. At age 91, he’s had a hard life, and now is legally blind. For a time he managed to live by himself with the help of the local social services folks, and frozen “meals on wheels.” Aides came in several mornings a week to assist him. Then after a bad fall, he could no longer live alone. Only one stepson lives nearby, but lives in a group home and is not independent. The stepson calls and is brought to see Charles every few weeks. A few other neighbors and a long time mail carrier are pretty much Charles’s only other visitors. His biggest wish, now that it’s summer, is that he could sit again under his old outdoor canopied swing enjoying the breezes and sun. We do take him to the courtyard outside his nursing home window whenever possible.

On Mother’s Day, we were able to sign Charles out of his nursing home (we hadn’t known we could do that) to visit his wife’s grave, nearby. He can transfer from a wheelchair to our minivan okay, so my husband pushed Charles’s wheelchair over uneven ground and up a hill at the cemetery. Charles broke down and just sobbed to be there once again. Theirs was a second marriage that lasted nearly fifty years. After her death, he was a loyal visitor to her grave. He kept saying, “You have no idea how much this means.” I think it was good for him to be able to let his sorrow out like that. Afterwards we picked up a fast food lunch to enjoy with him back in his room—so tasty after institutional food.

I write this not to brag on us in any way—I wish we could go visit several times a week. What we do is so meager. But when we do go, I am always struck by how very many lonely and friendless folks there are in long term care facilities throughout the land.

I’m sure many readers of this column visit friends, relatives, and church members. Many more of us could visit more often if we would but carve out time. And even if you are visiting someone who cannot speak, and perhaps it seems like they don’t even know you are there, the staff and caretakers know and take notice.

We all know we may someday be in those wheelchairs, those beds, those halls, eating those lunches. Perhaps recognizing that stark truth is what keeps some of us away. Is there someone who would enjoy a visit from you today or sometime this week? Or perhaps a card or phone call?


Any stories or memories this brings to mind? 

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  Charles gave permission for me to take and use photos. 

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