I visited a nursing home with a women's group from my church. We brought pan dulce (sweet bread), fruit, juice, and a large variety of presents on a Saturday morning.
Spending time with them, giving out presents, and singing Christmas carols together filled our agenda for the morning.
I loved that it did not smell like incontinence or decay. It was clean and plenty of morning sunlight warmed the area.
The people gathered in the activity room looked happy and pleasant. We set to work passing out the food. I love visiting with elderly people and hearing their stories, so this was a plum assignment for me. I got to spend time at each table visiting while I passed out fruit. Some shook my hand and engaged in lively conversation with me, some smiled, and some were just comfortable in their wheelchairs.
One rotund man with a University of Texas Santa hat on his head clapped his hands when I got to his table. I pulled over the fruit and greeted them. He stuck out his hand, so I clasped it in greeting. His grip tightened and I realized he wasn't going to let go as he talked with me. I was wearing boots with 3 1/2" heels and so I was tottering over him and holding a plate of fruit when he pulled me down towards him, telling me to sit on his lap. I lost my balance for a moment, teetered, and almost bit the dust. I regained it though, and was able to put the fruit down and pull my hand away from him in one motion.
My face was as red as the scarlet skirt I was wearing as I made my way to the next table. The ladies there were sweet and told me the man in the UT Santa hat was quite the ladies' man. I assured them I was married and wasn't looking.
The gathering ended with all of us singing carols together. A couple of the residents had tears running down their faces because they loved these songs so much and had such wonderful memories attached to them.
As we packed up to leave, a beautiful woman scooted over in her wheelchair to a clear place and motioned me to come over to her. As I pulled up a chair next to her, she shook her head a little and said, "It really means a lot that you all would come out here. It really does," she continued. She dabbed at her eyes with an embroidered handkerchief.
Her thick hair was a glowing white, her nails were expertly done, and she wore jewelry with flair. She wasn't dressed in a robe as some of the others were, but in a chic jacket and slacks outfit. Her makeup was fresh and done with a practiced hand. Even her slippers were blinged out.
I was touched and looked into her face so I could see her eyes. I was startled as I realized I knew her. She was Miss Estelle, who owned an elegant dress shop in town I used to visit with my mom when I was a little girl.
"Oh, Miss Estelle, how are you?" I asked. Mentally, I tried to calculate her age. She had to be in her nineties by now.
"It's been a hard year, to tell the truth. You know, my Tom, my sweetheart, passed away four years ago. Missy, who was our only child, passed away from cancer at the beginning of this year. She never had kids, and I'm the only one left of my seven sisters. I didn't think the end of my life would be like this."
My heart squeezed for her. "I'm so sorry to hear that, Miss Estelle." It was hard for me to think of anything appropriate to say, so I patted her hand.
"I can't change those things. I'm here, and I'm thankful for every day I have. I'll just have to buck up and bear through this. My mom was like that, and I'm like her. I will be OK, although it will be new territory for me."
"Miss Estelle, you look truly beautiful. I remember how well you always dressed, and you certainly still do," I told her.
She smiled. "Really, each day is a gift. It wouldn't do me any good at all to go around sloppy and frumpy. Every day I open my eyes, I'm going to give it the best I've got. I may be in this place now, but that doesn't mean I should quit living." She punctuated it with a smile and a nod.
As we wrapped up our conversation, I hugged her goodbye. I was deeply grateful for the rich lessons.
We made our way to the front door and the man in the UT hat was waiting by the exit. He clapped his hands when he saw us and called for me to come to him. One hand patted his lap while the other motioned me over.
I hustled to the front of our group and out the door as I called goodbye to him. More than one resident of this place still loved to live life fully.