No matter what path you’re on in this life, if that path isn’t about love, you’re on the wrong path.
~ Laurence Overmire
He must be new; I’ve never seen him here before. A white-haired gentleman wearing a plaid shirt and blue jeans shuffles along beside a younger woman who is looking around the gathering room in the care home with the eyes of a newcomer. Bringing up the rear is another man, younger than the white-haired man, but with similar facial features.
In the space of an instant I imagine the backstory: the white-haired man has just been moved in and his son and daughter-in-love are helping him get familiar with the new place. He seems relatively physically strong, so maybe an increasing dementia is what’s brought him here.
The woman’s attention is captured by the tall decorated Christmas tree and she strides toward it as the white-haired man follows. He stops front of the tree, gazing upward and over it, taking in the baubles and glitter with his eyes.
I’m captivated by the look on his face as he stands examining the tree and reaches out a hand to gently touch one of the golden balls hanging on it. I can’t help but wonder what is going through his mind. Is he remembering the magic of the season he felt when he was a boy? Is his throat tightening as he recalls those no longer here to celebrate the season with him this year? Does the Christmas tree evoke a sense of joy or melancholy?
I turn my attention back to my mother-in-love who is sleepy today, and my husband who holds her hand in his as he talks gently to her, even as her eyes close again. I am struck with the bittersweetness of this place, and of the love-in-action that is all around.
A middle-aged man pushes his mother’s wheelchair into the room while his father, leaning on a cane, follows. We nod to one another; I know from past conversations that they are daily visitors. The man with the cane stops to greet my sleeping mother-in-love as they pass by.
At another table a man holds a phone up so his mother can talk to someone on speaker. I hear the words I love you come from the phone and my heart swells for the priceless gift that costs nothing being given to this woman through those words.
People come and go—residents, staff, and visitors—and time passes slowly but not unpleasantly. The white-haired man and his family meander from place to place looking at all there is to look at, and then make their way toward the door, presumably to return to his room.
It’s okay, I want to tell him. It’s good here. I think about another man who lives here—a friendly man who was once a schoolteacher in the Yukon and who loves our little Yorkie—and I think that perhaps he might befriend the newcomer. I hope so.
In time, our visit comes to and end and my husband wheels his mom back to her room where we tuck a quilt around her and kiss her goodbye for now. We stop in the common room on the way out to use the facilities before hitting the road for the hour-and-a-half drive back home. Some residents are gathering for an afternoon game and Santa is making the rounds greeting everyone.
And life carries on.