Today I'm going to visit with someone who is quickly becoming very dear to me. He is a gentleman in the community that was born in 1920. He grew up when Yarmouth still had dirt roads, the train still came to town, and Yarmouth was prosperous. He has seen many changes through out his 93 years, and it has become a joy to sit and listen to all the things he has to tell me. Because I am bound by confidentiality I can't tell you his real name, but lets call him Ernie.
Ernie was a child of 8. His mother died when he was very young, and he has no memory of her. His father was left to raise all 8 children alone in a small community outside of Yarmouth. His first car was a Model A Ford, and as he proudly states, he paid $75 bucks for it!
Ernie got married very young as folks did then, and worked extremely hard his entire life. He lives in the same house his wife grew up in, and as he always tells me, he never owed anybody anything. I ask him his reflections on the life he has had. About the way things were, how they are now, and what he thinks about our generation today. He feels that in todays time, people are living beyond their means. They borrow money for things they want today, instead of the old fashioned way of saving up until you can afford it. He thinks we are a generation trapped on a wheel, always chasing to pay the debt to the bank. He shakes his head as he tells me this.
Ernie also loves to tell me about his wife, and shows me his wedding photo, two young people in Black and White staring out in to the world and the life ahead. He will pull out his wedding ring, worn and thin by time, which doesn't fit on his arthritic fingers any more. But as he unwraps it slowly from the tissue, he lovingly runs his finger over it before showing me. Proud of his years of marriage to the woman he loves. She's in a home now and doesn't recognize her surroundings most days. Ernie misses her, and when she remembers, she misses Ernie.
You see the thing with Ernie is that everyone is gone now. All his siblings and their spouses have died. Their children have grown and moved away, and Ernie has no one of his own. He is all alone. Each day he gets up in the morning and faces the long day ahead with no one to visit with, no one to talk to, and unable to go out. The nurse will come a few times a week, the cleaning lady, and me, the volunteer.
Once a week I go visit Ernie and sit and chat awhile. Sure he tells me the same stories every week, and shows me the same pictures. He may even tell me the same story the same day. But when I show up, and I see him sitting in his chair waiting for me, my heart breaks. When I have to leave him, and drive away to my own life, full of activity and kids and husband, I cry every time.
The loneliness and isolation that exists for so many of our seniors out there is heart wrenching. They have no families, they have no one. They aren't sick enough to be put in to a home ( not that this is any better at times ) so they live in a world of extreme loneliness. Ernie tells me this all the time. He says his days are so very long. He doesn't enjoy today's television shows, and reading isn't an option. So there are no distractions.
And the thing is, Ernie isn't an isolated case. In fact, when I first signed up to volunteer, they told me their list is so long, that many people pass away before they even get a volunteer to visit.
I guess the reason I'm writing this today is not only to share my feelings with you about my Ernie, but in hopes that if you have even a spare hour in your week, to consider using it to visit with someone that needs it. You don't have to do much but listen. They just want to talk and have human contact. Something to look forward to in their day. I guarantee you, the rewards are ten fold.
And I'm not saying I'm some great amazing person that takes the time to be with others. Some times I don't even feel like going. But once I'm there, and visiting, and see his smile and his eyes light up telling me a story about taking the Model A Ford up the line and bouncing through the pot holes, his girl by his side, I feel happy inside. I settle in to the rocking chair, against the afghan his wife crocheted years ago and take it all in. Because you see, I need Ernie as much as he needs me. I get to go out and leave my problems and responsibilities for a little while, and take a trip back in time. And to me, its worth every moment.