My mother lived to a ripe old age, but not, of course, without suffering her share of losses. But despite her growing confusion and forgetfulness in her last several years, she never lost her instinct to care about others.
Once, one of the residents in her retirement community got lost, despite the fact that they lived in a very small apartment complex with only two floors. Suffering from advanced dementia, this woman made her way to the office and announced that she had locked herself out of her apartment. Would someone let her back in? The woman behind the desk told her she had a key and would be happy to help. But no amount of persuasion would convince the elderly woman to step onto the elevator that would carry them both to her second-floor apartment. “No,” she insisted, “my apartment is on the first floor. I’ve never lived on the second floor!”
After repeated attempts to convince her otherwise, the woman in the office finally gave up and called a family member to come and help. But the relative she called could not come for at least another hour. Noting the situation and her elderly friend’s agitation, my mother assured the staff member that everything was going to be all right. Because she knew it was futile to try to convince her friend she had always lived on the second floor, she didn’t even try. Instead she simply settled her arthritic back onto a bench outside the office, sitting beside her friend until help arrived.
I like that story because it says something important about the comfort we derive from each other. Often we don’t want people to solve our problems as much as we want them to sit down beside us, comforting us with their presence. Two elderly women, both confused, sitting quietly on a bench together. That speaks to me of the gift we can be to each other, even in our weakest moments.