It was in the late spring of 2013 my dear friend Kyle, a physical therapist, invited me to come visit the rehab and long term care facility where he worked. He had shared with me so many wonderful, funny, and sometimes heart wrenching stories about the residents he assisted. I knew his experiences with this population, primarily the elderly, shaped his humble and loving demeanor. Struggling with my own deficiencies in loneliness and less than selfless attitude, I was envious of his wisdom and outlook on life. I was grateful for the invitation and possibility to meet the characters that impacted his life in such a profound way.
It didn’t take long before my introduction to the infamous Polly was made. We entered the room and her face immediately lit up at Kyle’s presence. I was greeted with a side-glance of hesitation and, “Who are you?” Upon the assurance that I wasn’t a doctor or nurse there to perform tests, but rather Kyle’s friend, Polly eased her doubt and continued on in friendly banter telling Kyle that he needed to shave his beard, as he was looking rather homeless and unkept. This was her nature: to be motherly, direct, and always honest. Before long, Kyle moved on to the next patient but at my request, I decided to stay back.
I can’t recall all of the conversations we had that day but the emotions from our first meeting are still vivid.
I was anxious about being left in a room with a stranger that was elderly, fragile, and unfamiliar.
I was nervous about how to engage someone who rarely had anyone to talk to, but had so much to say.
I was empathetic to the fact that she was so alive, but yet confined to a small shared room with no realistic future of leaving.
I was sad thinking about her loneliness as I faced my own fears and depression around growing old and alone.
From the fist time we met, an instant bond was formed and unbeknownst to us both, a void was soon to be filled. Compared to Polly, I had 5 less decades on understanding life, however we faced very similar troubles and fears. I knew this was the start of more than just a friendship, but a journey. We had come into each other’s lives for a reason. Over the next 4 years that purpose would become more understood as we faced the trials of life, death, and what happens after – together.