July 3, 2012
Last week, my family and I visited my wife’s 90-year old grandfather in a rural Nebraska assisted living facility. Everett is remarkably lucid for a man his age. We spent time together in the receiving room and ate lunch outside in the garden before returning to his modestly furnished room.
While my children were sharing the pictures they’d made especially for him, I was drawn into Everett’s past while examining posted photographs of family and friends throughout the years. I imagined the country’s circumstances at the time of the photos: Roosevelt’s fireside chats, World War II, Vietnam, Watergate, the oil crisis… And then I realized that I remembered the long lines for gasoline during the oil crisis in the early 1970s and imagined where I lived and what I was doing in 1973 at the same time Everett was captured in a pose with his wife, Betty, now deceased.
About that time, my wife called for us to return to the reception area for a family picture. Julie and the kids went ahead as Everett, with his walker, and I trailed them down the hall. That gave us a moment alone and I asked him, “Everett, how are you doing—how are you really doing?”
He said, “You know, I drove by this place for years and I always knew I would end up here. Most of the residents sleep quite a bit. After dinner, most of them go right to bed and there’s no one to talk to. It’s lonely.”
After our family picture, while Julie and the kids were saying their goodbyes, I approached the main reception desk and asked for a business card so that I would have the mailing address handy when we returned home. That way, we could mail Everett copies of the photos as well as more drawings from the kids.
Upon hearing my request, the receptionist looked surprised and said, “I’m not sure where they keep those. Can you wait here a minute?”
She disappeared into the office of an administrator across the hall and returned a moment later with a business card.
Sensing a missed opportunity, I suggested that she prominently display the business cards—even drawing attention to them with a sign inviting visitors to “Please take a card. We all love to get mail!”
I realize that it’s easy enough to Google the name of the residence to obtain the mailing address—assuming you remember its name. (“I know it had the word ‘garden’ in its name… Or was it ‘terrace?’”) Even so, it’s much easier to follow through on your commitment to write and mail pictures when you have a physical reminder (the business card) that’s right in front of you.
The receptionist politely thanked me for my suggestion (I get that a lot…) and returned to her work.
As I said farewell to Everett, I told him that we’d be sure to write and mail pictures. He smiled and nodded. I couldn’t help but wonder how many times he and other residents heard similar promises from family and friends that went unfulfilled after they departed the sleepy facility and rejoined their busy lives.
How about you? Is there anyone you can think of, lonely or not, who would love to hear from you or your children out of the blue? If necessary, make the effort to locate their address and be intentional about reminding them that you care.