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.