Fall 2018 Seniors Helping Seniors Spring Scholarship – 3rd Place Winner
Bay Alarm Medical
November 11, 2018
In the heart of my city there lies a run-down rest home surrounded by cracked sidewalks, bushy trees, and a scraggly creek trickling by. As you walk inside you’re encompassed by white walls and the omnipresent smell of grape-flavored Jolly Ranchers. You’re in the home of the most dear, loving people you will ever have the privilege of meeting.
There’s Delayna, who writes romance novels from her wheelchair; Mary, who has a big smile and an affinity for crossword puzzles; Stuard, who loves to shake hands with anyone willing; and, among many others, my sweet Georgia.
I love everyone here, but I simply adore Georgia. Most 17-year-olds don’t have 82-year-old best friends; then again, most 17-year-olds don’t know Georgia Clements. We love to discuss everything from Georgia’s flirtatious escapades at the rest home to how well she fares in the bingo tournament each week. Then she’ll tell me stories, like how she loved Nat King Cole when she was my age and when she went to see him in concert she sat so close to the stage that she could feel his spittle landing on her face. We talk about the dresses she used to sew for herself and our mutual love of Audrey Hepburn. “You’re a good listener,” she tells me as we near the end of our usually-more-than-an-hour-long conversation every Sunday. “No,” I say, “you’re a fantastic storyteller.” Then she’ll grin and send me off to the vending machine to fetch her a bedtime Sprite. When I leave for good she calls, “I love your pink little guts!”
Visiting with Georgia each week has brought so much joy into my life, and I couldn’t recommend a better way to spend time with seniors. They are full of life, experiences, and personality.
Georgia doesn’t have much excitement in her life (aside from bingo), so this past summer I was determined to make her birthday a big celebration. I promised to bring her a little gift, but her birthday happened to fall on the same day as my brother’s—a mandatory family event. Between my job and his celebration, I wasn’t able to go visit Georgia until late in the evening. She was positively thrilled when I finally arrived with a cupcake and present. We sang “Happy Birthday” together and I had to quickly head back home. On my way out, the nurse across the hall stopped me. “Thank you so much for coming,” she said. “Her family was supposed to visit, but they never came. She’s been asking for you all day.”
Georgia and I also made plans to go to lunch a few days later as an extended celebration of her 82 rotations around the sun. We dressed up and went out to a new restaurant. Georgia was good-humored about everything, even when her skirt fell down while I was helping her shuffle across the restaurant’s parking lot, at which she burst out laughing. By the time we returned to the rest home, she was so exhausted that she climbed right into bed and barely stayed awake long enough for me to slip her shoes off and cover her toes up with a blanket. “This was the best day ever,” she said. “Let’s do it again soon.”
Most people at the rest home are living without the comforts one hopes to have in old age. Many are stuck in their beds or wheelchairs all day, and even more—among them my sweet Georgia—don’t have family living near enough to visit on a regular basis. Many are lonely and hurting; yet the most touching thing is how cheerfully they endure these hardships. They love everyone around them so purely. Somehow all of your own concerns and preoccupations fade into the background as soon as you step inside the building, because this humble home gives you a priceless perspective on just how good you have it—and how much you can contribute to the happiness these of individuals.
Indeed, loving—and forgiving—are among the greatest lessons I have learned from the examples of my friends at the rest home. Recently I learned that Georgia has been a ward of the state for the past thirty years because of an event long ago in which she killed her youngest son and attempted suicide. She was declared mentally insane; her family moved away, and her husband divorced her. Needless to say, I was devastated by the discovery. I couldn’t understand how the sweet, harmless Georgia I know could be capable of committing something so horrendous, and for days I questioned our friendship: could things ever be the same again? But I soon came to the conclusion that whoever Georgia had been then was a very different Georgia from the sweet friend I love. While I in no way condone what occurred, Georgia wasn’t in her right mind at that time and it breaks my heart to think of how much she may silently suffer now, living with the knowledge of what happened. But in our two years of friendship she has only shown me kindness and laughter; while discovering her past initially challenged my love for her, it has only been strengthened in the long run.
Georgia’s life-changing lesson is far from being the only way in which visiting my dear friends has impacted me. It has given me a greater sense of purpose and life as I have recognized the need everyone has of companionship and of feeling loved. I have learned to value human lives exponentially more than I did before. I have emerged from my shell and learned to sing solos and to be bold enough to knock on new doors. I have learned to impart of my own time and money because I have realized others are in greater need of it. I have learned the significance of a simple smile or “hello.” Call it cliché, but it’s true: I’m a completely different person because of the time I’ve spent at the rest home.