My first job in senior care was on the memory care floor of a nursing home. All the residents were in the later stages of some kind of cognitive decline. Most of them spoke very little, some not at all. One of these was Emily.
Emily smiled quietly from her chair whenever anyone said her name. Her posture was perfect. She folded her hands beautifully in her lap until something — anything — was placed on the table in front of her. Then she would gently pick up the object and examine it with her hands, gently, with divine attention.
Emily had striking deep brown, almost black, eyes. Her eyebrows were still a deep black, while the rest of her hair was gray. Emily rarely noticed anything outside the reach of her hands. When it was time for her to move from one room to another, she stood slowly and took the arm of whoever walked with her. She took short, shuffling steps, like many of the other people on the floor.
Every day, just after lunch, Emily’s husband came to visit with her. He greeted her in the dining room. Every day, her serene countenance grew into a wide open smile as soon as she saw him. Her eyes sparkled and her pale cheeks flushed pink. They walked down the hall, arm-in-arm, and went to Emily’s room where they would sit next to each other and hold hands. Sometimes, her husband would brush her hair, or show her pictures of the grandchildren. After an hour or two, around the time Emily started to fall asleep in her chair, her husband kissed her on the forehead and said goodbye until the next day.
I had the privilege of witnessing so many love stories like this one in that job. Emily and her husband hold a special place in my heart because their tenderness was unshakeable. On rare days, Emily would get anxious and almost angry. She couldn’t sit still and would not hold her husband’s hand. He still looked at her with the same unshiftable tenderness. On these days he would try to stroke her hair or sing to her. If nothing worked, he would simply sit and love her.
The absolute simplicity of his presence, every single day, reminds me how much we all have to offer each other. If we will only just show up, and be present with another human with no judgement.