I walked into the old age home. It smelt like a combination of Lysol cleaner and the mothball scent from your childhood best friend’s cottage. As I reached the second floor I took my headphones out of my ears, wrapping them around my phone and signed into the floor. I used to be saddened by nursing homes, something about my great grandmother calling out for her husband’s name in a dementia state made my heart sink. But since starting to volunteer here, every day gets easier. Her voice fades quieter in my heart each time.
Today I was with Edith. I loved her name, even added it to my potential names for babies list. Edith was in her 80s, she had dementia and smelt like lemons (from her hand cream). She was one of my favourites on the floor, she loved to talk as her own children only visited on the weekends when their own children’s busy schedules permitted. Her husband had died from cancer several years before. She told me stories of their love affair. He was 13 years her senior, she just 15 when they met. He was a friend of her family’s family somehow; as that was the way then. Both having immigrated from Europe post WW2, they had a similar sense of life.
Their love was strong; it went through a death of a child, struggles to pay the bills on time. Their love went through the highs of having 5 of their own children and currently 12 grandchildren; through stories of faith of always having a hand to hold.
Today she was wearing her baby pink tracksuit her grandchildren brought her for Christmas last year. She always wore earrings and a necklace – usually pieces her late husband had bought her. Today was her silver and diamond flower set. Edith was sitting, peering out the window over looking the parking lot. She probably saw me walk in, but she didn’t call out my name as usual. I got the sense she was feeling somber today.
When I pulled up a chair beside her and said, “Good morning Edith”, she skipped her usual pleasant greeting and said, “Darling, have you ever been in love? I mean real love. The love that haunts you day in and day out, the love where you know you cannot let go, even though you cannot be together?”
I tired to hide my pain; I knew just what kind of love she was referring too. I hadn’t told her much about myself, but I had been in and out of relationships most of my adult life trying to make them work, thinking that’s just what you do, settle for what you could get. Until the past year when I unexpectedly, painfully fell in love with someone I couldn’t have. He (a divorcé and work-a-holic) and myself (hopelessly focusing on another dead-end relationship) playfully spoke to each other, saying pleasant comments about one another but neither of us making the move. I longed for him; my soul ached to hear his voice in any capacity.
Edith still hadn’t looked at me; she continued to look out the window. Sitting in the chair I grabbed, I joined her and admired the view. It was a sunny Canadian spring day; the grass on the soccer field across the road was mostly mud. It wouldn’t be long before the tiny humans would be out in their Tim Horton’s Timbit’s soccer jerseys making new friendships and stumbling around the ball.
Edith broke the silence, facing me and looking me dead in the eye she said, “Go get him hunnie”. I was shocked and wondered if I had said anything out loud while I dream about him, But I knew with her dementia she could be reliving a moment from her past. I played along.
“Go get who Edith?”
“Your man, the one you are longing for while you look out that window”. I said nothing, stunned and embarrassed, I’ve never been able to hide my emotions that well. Edith talked over my silence, “You don’t know this, but my husband wasn’t the love of my life. Listen to me when I say, go get him hunnie. You don’t want to be like me, sitting here in this cage of a home, in a faded old track suit wondering what your life would have been like with the man you loved the most. What adventures and tales you would have had together. What joys and beautiful moments you would have shared”.
I reached over to touch her shoulder and offered her a drink, she grabbed my hand instead and said it again “Go get him hunnie. Life’s too short to daydream.”
When I left the home that day – after an hour of sitting in silence with Edith as she looked out the window, turning away any activity I suggested to her – reading out loud together, checking out the artist display downstairs, going for a walk outside in the sun – I didn’t know what to feel. I put in my headphones, turned up the volume and walked home.
It wasn’t until later that evening when I was brushing my teeth for the night, that it hit me. I needed to make my move. This man, he gave me butterflies like I haven’t felt since I was a teenage girl crushing on Steve Young the “too-cool-for-school senior”. We had discussions about politics, religion, and love and I couldn’t get enough of him. Next thing I knew, I was changing out of my pajamas and into my skinny dark blue jeans and my favourite grey top that I know caught his eye in the past. No more than 10 minutes later I was driving to his door.
But first I made a stop to grab him a dark roast double double…