Monday, December 29, 2008

Remember Me

A few months ago, my elderly neighbor Jim returned home from being in a nursing home recovering from an operation that almost took his life. He is about 10 years older than my grandfather and has watched me grow up from the time I was 6. His grandchildren were my playmates as a child; his wife always had cold lemonade and cookies for my brother and I; and Jim never minded when our basketballs, kickballs, or any other sort of ball rolled down the hill usually finding its way into his greenhouse.

His wife passed away several years ago. His children and grandchildren try to stop by every week if they can but for the most part he is alone. Over the past several weeks someone from my family has gone to visit him every few days to collect his mail, take him some warm meals, and just generally check in on him. These visits are usually a half hour or so, sometimes a little longer. Once he was in a talkative mood and I was there for an hour and a half. Jim called home about 15 minutes after I returned home to apologize to my mom for keeping me so long and to let her know that I was on my way home. He's a kind gentle man whose body is having a lot of trouble keeping up with his mind, which has slowed as much as his step.

Some days he regales us with stories about his 40 some odd years spent as an employee of our town water department, his grandchildren and great grandchildren, the "good old days," and how much he misses his wife. Other days he just wants someone to watch reruns of Law and Order with so he can discuss whats happening during the commercial breaks. He never wants to keep us long and always thanks us for stopping by.

It had been a few days since any member of my family had been to see Jim on Christmas Eve, his granddaughters were in from out of town so he had some company, but someone needed to go check in with him, since I am still on break, I was the logical choice. I woke up in a cranky mood from lack of sleep over the weekend with a whole list of things I needed to do today--catch up on blogs, put my Christmas presents away, make plans with friends, answer some emails. Truthfully, the last thing I was in the mood to do was go visit Jim. But, I went anyway figuring that I wouldn't be there that long and would still have plenty of time to do everything I wanted to do and take a nap.

I headed down over the hill for a quick visit, grumbling under my breath as I went. After a half hour or so of discussing Christmas, Jim said to me "You know, I really appreciate that you'ins always remember me." With that simple sentence and without even knowing it Jim taught me an important lesson. I felt about two inches tall. While I had been sitting there mentally thinking of an excuse to get back home, he was just grateful and appreciative to have some company. Immediately my mood changed. The long to-do list of things I just had to get finished left my mind. Suddenly it seemed more important that I sit there in that rocking chair almost right next to his and listen to him tell me stories I've heard before. I listened intently, asked questions I already knew the answers to, and after a few hours made us tea before listening some more. After almost three hours he realized that he missed his afternoon nap and that it was his dinner time, so I left. On my way out the door he thanked me over and over again for such a wonderful afternoon telling me how fast I had helped passed the time.

This afternoon was one of the longest times I'd spent with Jim since I was a child and I've thought about it all evening--particularly his statement about us remembering him. It doesn't matter if we don't have any exciting news or a hot meal for him. He doesn't care if he hears the same story from three different family members. He just wants to be remembered, for someone to remember that he's down there by himself and to stop by, say hi, and just listen. There will always be other things that I could be doing, but I really need to make a conscious effort to go visit Jim more. Its such a simple act to go visit for a few hours, it costs nothing but a little bit of my time and it is so appreciated. Someday in the future it may be my grandparents or mother living alone, removed from family members busy with with their own lives. Now that I think about it--I would really want someone to remember them. If it were me living alone in a big house with no family close by, I would really want and hope for someone to remember me....

10 comments:

bigskygirl said...

my "jim"'s name is chuck. he and his lovely wife doris are in arizona for the winter, but after reading this i am going to put my shit aside the first time i go home after they get back and visit until they kick me out. :) when we were kids they were always so good to us (minus that one time doris came to our house on halloween and made me cry because she scared me with her mask). chuck used to use the tractor to pile up all the snow from our driveway and theirs in the front yard and help me and his grandson make igloos. then we'd lay in our igloo in all our snowpanted finery and drink pepsi. haha. my dad and i would always mow their lawn when they were gone and whenever they returned they always had some trinket for me, or money as i got older. one year doris brought me 2 bottles of nail polish from bath and body works -- gosh that was probably 15 years ago but i still remember that pretty blue polish! :) each time i've gone home since i've gone to college it seems like they get way older, and they always ask me to stop by before i leave if they catch me outside or something and i always find a reason not to. gah. sometimes we all need a reminder. thanks, mandy. :)

Fritz said...

that post gave me goosebumps and as small tear...at work! it is amazing how the little things really do count, we just need to be reminded of them. say hi to jim for me!!

chickbug said...

a wonderful story and made me stop and "remember" who I might be overlooking. Thank you for the important reminder, especially with older adults. Too often they are forgotten.

Ray said...

What a great story. You're right: To someone who is sick or elderly, the smallest effort of reaching out could mean the world to them. :)

Andy said...

Yeah, that's exactly what my mom says to us about my grandparents. We all live so far away rom them, so the weekly visit is mandatory, nobody likes to be forgotten.

Kylie said...

Very nice post. It gave me chills. Thanks for making me stop and think...

AntonucciFamily said...

Not long after I read this post, two people we used to live next door stopped by to drop off a Christmas gift. I haven't talked to them in about 8 months and it was good to catch up for a couple minutes. Thanks for reminding to find the time for people, they matter more than "things."

Auburn Kat said...

This is exactly why I spend so much time with my family...

Bayjb said...

Wow that gives me something to think about. Great post.

RebeccaC said...

What a wonderful story. You and your family are truly wonderful people, and your town seems like such a wonderful place filled with people who really care about one another.

Living where we do in the city, all of our neighbors are about the same age, but my parents have a gentleman next door to them who they care for -- shoveling his drive, bringing him cookies. Of course, we're also lucky enough to have my grandma living with my parents, she is 89 and sharp as a tack. I think its because she is cared for and always with people that love her. We really make an effort to ensure she is always part of activities. I only wish we could give that to other elderly folks.

Happy New Year, my friend!