I wonder if the gifts we give are the memories we leave behind. Not our bucket list “to-do” memories, but those stories others tell about us after our passing?
How funny it can seem.
Five days after my dad died, I’m visiting my mom in the nursing home. She’s fractured her hip and has, almost provincially, ended up in the same center as him just days before his death.
In this moment, she is in a wheelchair in her room and has forgotten, again, that dad is gone.
As we leave the room, her nurse nods understandingly at my mother’s confusion. The caregiver is a strong woman. Her voice is a lilting singsong of Caribbean tones. I like her just from her voice.
My dad was her favorite patient, she says unexpectedly.
“Your dad was so funny. Every morning he would sing to me. I’d walk into his room and he and Raul would sing songs to me. You know, Raul was his roommate. The two of them together, singing to me!”
Her laughter lit the sterile walls. She seemed smitten to have been serenaded by these two old codgers, momentarily living out their youth with a sprightly young CNA.
If it had not been such a long day, I would have asked her sensible questions such as, “what songs did he sing?” And did Raul harmonize in Spanish, since he spoke so little English?
But I didn’t. Instead, I leaned in closer and watched her warm sparkling eyes and I thought of Dennis, a patient at the same nursing home.
The last day I saw my dad, I fed him ice chips and apple juice, coaxing him to eat. My mom perched nearby in her wheelchair, uncertain of what to do with this tired old man that had been her husband.
Dennis is the only patient in the dining room capable of communicating the way you and I understand. He liked to talk with me when I visited and that day he seemed eager to recount my dad’s early days on the nursing floor.
As I watched my dad’s eyes for a reaction to the food tipping into his mouth, Dennis talked.
“The first morning, I heard this singing. I thought someone had left a radio on. But it was your dad. Sitting at the breakfast table, singing. And then, everyone started coming out of their rooms, to see where the music was coming from. He had a beautiful voice.”
In my mind, I could see the patients emerging like frail birds, slow and deliberate, seeking out the sound of a song.
That day while speaking with mom’s nurse a week after my dad passed, I looked around at the tan and white great room where elderly patients wait only for their next meal and every day is a mirror image of the last, and I realized my dad brought a song and left a memory: for the staff, for the patients.
In a place without a future, he sparked moments of joy and created a memory to cherish. What a talent that is. What a gift to give.