Syliva | Bay Alarm Medical Scholarship 2017
June 6, 2017
One of my best friends for the past five years has been a 98 year-old woman named Sylvia. For my Bat Mitzvah, I needed a community service project; something that would truly make a difference. I stumbled on an ad for a program that paired adults with nursing home residents, I asked for an interview with the director of the Jewish Seniors Agency. All I needed to do was convince him to give me a chance since there had never been a middle schooler asking to be involved. He agreed to take a chance with me.
I was matched with Sylvia, then, 93 years-old. For the next five years, I met weekly with Sylvia. Our first few visits were awkward since I really did not know what to say, for fear that I would say something that would make her sad or reminiscent. I do not know how or when it happened, but Sylvia and I just clicked, making me realize that friendship is truly ageless. The 80 years between us became irrelevant. We laughed together about the nursing home gossip, smiled together over my prom pictures, and cried together when she lost one of her sons.
Like a typical teenager, I seldom wanted to listen to my parents; however, when Sylvia gave me advice, I listened. Whether it was about problems with friends or time management, I hung on every word she said; taking it all in, absorbing her advice like a sponge. I learned about her life as a young person prior to and during the Depression, how she always loved to read and how she met and married her husband. She, in turn, listened to me about my learning how to drive, tripping over the last hurdle in a track meet, and vacationing with family. She was my friend; simple as that. I realized I could enjoy myself by just talking and being with her, and as a result, I learned the true meaning of friendship.
When I was on vacation this past July, I received a call from Sylvia’s son. She had contracted an infection and her condition was critical. Upon hearing these words, I burst into tears. Sylvia had become part of my family. The fear of losing her was completely overwhelming. As soon as I got home, I went directly to the nursing home where we had a bittersweet visit. Hours later, she died. I learned how devastating the loss of a friend can truly be. Truth be told, I am still not over it.
From Sylvia I learned the importance of being true to my word and the meaning of compassion. When I promised Sylvia I would be there, I was there. She taught me that one person can make a difference. Sylvia made all the difference to me.
It struck that so many residents in her home did not have visitors. I can only imagine that loneliness is a fact of life for them. This really bothers me. What I learned from Sylvia is that I can make a difference. I now visit with two of Sylvia’s best friends but that is not enough. With the help of the director of the Jewish Seniors Agency, I have created and am in the process of implementing a program just for young people to be paired with elderly shut-ins, like I was paired with Sylvia.
In the months since her death, I still cannot think or speak of her without crying. I feel a void in my life. Our strong bond inspires me to ensure this newly developed program is successful before I graduate high school. What an amazing legacy Sylvia and I are forging. I know Sylvia would be proud. I just know it.
[Lauren was awarded Bay Alarm Medical’s 2nd place winnder for the 2017 Scholarship Program. She will be studying Marine Science at Boston University.]