I Will Not Be the Last One (Part Two)

“Joan, when she graduated high school, decided to enter the military,” he offered.  His gaze returned to his faithful watch of the gray skies.

A few moments passed, “Within months she was shipped off to Germany.  She was so young.  My brother…she was his only daughter.”  He looked at me again, his eyes still not completely registering me.

“She was rapped there.  She lost the baby.  She was never right after that. She blamed herself…for everything.”

“I am so sorry Sammy.  How devastating.” My heart sank.  A call bell rang interrupting the respectful silence we were sharing.

“I visited her as often as I could, but she was never the same.  Shock treatments twice a week.  Me and my brother, we could never help her.”

He continued to share that she never married or had another child.  From what I could gather, she was hospitalized the majority of her life.

“Sammy,” I asked, “Was she ever diagnosed with a mental illness?”

“Schizophrenia,” he clarified after another period of stillness.

My heart met him at that moment.  “Oh Sammy, my brother has schizophrenia.  I understand how difficult it can be to watch your loved suffer and become someone else. You have been such a loving Uncle to her.  You did what you could.  She is being taken care of now. I want you to know you are not alone. I understand some of how you are feeling.” I utter each of these sentiments intently.  There are no truer words that could be shared with him now, his twilight years.

“I dream of her.  I cannot tell if it is her.  She is so different.  I cry as I reach to see her face,” his eyes began to well with tears.  I become concerned that I have troubled him more than anything else.

‘Damn it, Mary!’ I think to myself.

He continues, his words are heavy.  “She snaps at me, ‘Stop that crying! Stop it now!'”.

Both hands raise to his chest and he pats it slowly, his face grows flushed, “My heart, it gets me here when I think of her. Her parents are both gone now.”  Pandora’s box is open.

‘Oh Sammy, I know that feeling,’ I think to myself.

“You are such a loving Uncle.  She knows, Sammy.” I walk closer to him, around the periphery of the bed.  “I am so sorry if I upset you. I cannot leave you upset.”

He speaks with conviction now, “NO, NO!”  His voice is soft but his tone strong.  “You just helped me.  In fact,” he adds looking at me and shifting his position, “You have given me some good things to think about.”

Bending down to meet him face to face, I touch his shoulder and share, “Sammy, my name is Mary.  I want you to know I will be back.  I am grateful to have you as a new friend.”

“Mary, Mary. Yes…you will be back. Thank you, Mary,” he states and for the first time, his eyes meet mine fully registering my face.

Before I leave, I check in with his nurse.  “Please keep an eye on him today,” I request.

On the ride home, I see Sammy and Joan, the boat, the pictures.  I hear his voice.  I feel his pain.  I do not want him to leave this earth with that pain, the burden he has carried his whole adult life. I am reminded to make peace with the burdens I carry.  I resolve to be his friend so he can do the same.

And now, I am comforted knowing I will not be the last one to hear his story.




I Will Not Be the Last One (Part One)

The picture, once I held it, spoke a thousand words.  It had been placed on his window sill when he was admitted weeks ago to the long term care facility.  This picture and one other all that remained of his most personal possessions. It symbolized a story that would change his entire life I would soon learn.

I held it carefully in my hands and inspected the faces that looked back at me from the distant past.  Two young men casually stood by a small wooden boat.  Between them, propped up on the bow of the boat, was a young girl in a dress.  The expressions on their faces did not give any clues as to what a special day it had been.

Sammy barely spoke during our visits other than to politely answer my questions, “How are  you feeling today Sammy?”  “Did you sleep good last night?”

I am compelled to greet each one of the residents and confirm to them that I see them and that they are valued.  If I can do nothing else, I see them.

“I am doing O.K., ” he would respond slowly lifting his blank eyes to mine.  His face expressionless and his voice monotone.  But still, there was a gentleness I sensed beyond the melancholy he displayed.

Today, I slowly approached him as he sat staring out the window, past me and the photos,  in his wheelchair.  “Sammy, who is this?  Is this you?” I asked pointing to one of the young men.

His hand raised to hold the photo, his gaze shifting but his body remained still.  He brought it close to him, “Ah, that is me and my older brother.  That was a special day.” He turned and looked at me.

I smiled and folded my hands together.  He continued, “That is my niece, Joan.”  One finger raised to touch her face.  “We named the boat after her that day.”

I had learned previously that Sammy never married or had his own children.  He worked at a light fixture factory the majority of his life.  He loved to fish and had served our country. This niece had to have held a special place in his heart.

“Wow, that is a special day! Is this her too?” I asked pointing to the only other picture he had.  It was a formal picture of a young woman in a military uniform from decades ago.

I walked back around to the window sill to look at it closer.  “Yes, that is her.  That is Joan.”

He leaned towards the bed beside him and tapped it with his hand, “Can I tell you something?” he asked.  As he spoke, he lifted his face to me completely and took a deep breath.  I sensed it.  Adjusting his photo back on the window sill, I paused.  “Of course.”

“It is not good,” he added.

“That is O.K., Jimmy.  I am a nurse,” I spoke expecting him to recount a horror from a war.