“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.