As we often did, Ms. Johnson* and I sat together in the garden area of her nursing home. She held a tissue in her hand and would fold and refold it over and over until it was tattered and threadbare. Watching her hands move, I wondered what all those hands had seen and done in the 82 years she walked this earth. She spoke of her grown children and the sadness that she feels from their absence in her life and how much she just wants to go home. Sadly, she knows that there is no home to go back to. Her home had been sold several years ago after she fell and was placed in the nursing home.
She spoke of how at night she would get a cookie and some milk, climb into bed under her covers and watch TV until she fell asleep.
I asked her to tell me about her home. “Walk me through it, Ms. Johnson. Tell me about each room and what they held and how you felt.” We talked our way through her home for the next three sessions. She told me about how the light bounced off the green linoleum floor in her kitchen. How in the living room there was a piano and it sat against a wall that held pictures of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. She spoke of her bedroom and how at night she would get a cookie and some milk, climb into bed under her covers and watch TV until she fell asleep. These memories she shared were sacred. They told of a time when she felt in control and valued as a person.
She then told me that she has not felt in control and valued at all since moving out of her home. We talked about the feelings that she has and how this impacts her life. Not many 30 year olds get to hear the stories that I do. I am the keeper of so many stories of the past; of sorrow, of joy, of pain and of strength. I told Ms. Johnson that I wish I could “fix” all of this for her. I wish I could snap my fingers and she would feel the way she did when she was home.
But, that is just it….I can’t fix it for her but I can offer myself. I can listen to her memories. I can hold them close to my heart. I can remember the names of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. I can bring her a cookie and some milk. I can show up. That is what we all need; someone to show up and listen.
That is what we all need;
someone to show up and listen.
Sometimes we feel like there is nothing we can do for someone that is hurting but there is. The last time I talked to Ms. Johnson before she passed away I told her I wished I could do more for her and her response was, “You do so much by sitting and listening. I can tell you care and that carries me through some long nights.” I will carry your stories always, Ms. Johnson. They are now a part of my heart and a piece of my own story.
* All names and identifying information have been changed to protect privacy.