Thursday, February 14, 2013

To Jack, With Love

Last Monday, I had the pleasure of meeting a man named Jack.

He was nearing 80 and though his eyes were still a vivid blue against thinning hair of white, the spark in them was fading.

Though his mind could still process how to walk and talk, sometimes his limbs would not obey and sometimes the words formed by his mouth were garbled and confusing.

Jack had an intellectual disability - the specifics of which I do not know, but don't think matter.

Jack's face, though clearly aged, was free of the lines that often adorn the faces of those who've lived and loved well. There is a kind of beauty to an old face belonging to someone who's beloved, don't you think?

But in Jack's face, though I spied beauty, I saw no love. In fact, all I could see clearly was that Jack had lived a long, long life of being unloved.

Unlovedness is state of being, a place of longing, a wary gaze, a blank look where knowing should be.

Unlovedness is not just the loss of love, it is never having known it.

Unlovedness is what you see before you avert your eyes from the huddled form on a snowy street, homemade sign propped against a crumpled coffee cup. Unlovedness is a plea written in shaky block letters which reads: I am homeless. I am hungry. Please help.

Shelter me. Feed me. Love me.

Unlovedness is what you read about in your local paper, where the headline screams: "Townsfolk Fear For Safety, Call For Tougher Laws!" and the piece goes on to describe some boys who wreaked havoc on the houses that border their "home" - a residential facility where they have lived since "graduating" from the foster care system six months ago.

Want me. Know me. Love me.

Unlovedness is what you see when you tiptoe into a nursing home that smells like loneliness and regret, where residents sit listlessly in the chairs on either side of  the entrance way, waiting.

Remember me. Miss me. Love me. 

Unlovedness reads like this, when I tried to capture the essence of Jack's life, in a journal entry this past Monday, a mere seven days after meeting him:

After he left here last Thursday, he was trundled over to a local nursing home, because the people
he was home-cared by felt that his needs (dementia, wandering, forgetfulness, rages) were beyond their comfort and care abilities.
Jack spent Thursday and Friday night(s) in the nursing home, locked in his room.
On Saturday, nurses reported that he was lethargic and difficult to engage.
On Sunday, Jack refused breakfast.
And then he refused lunch.
That afternoon, Jack curled up in his strange new bed...and died.
Most here believe that he died of a heart attack.
I think he died of a broken heart.
Today is Valentine's Day, Jack.
 I can only hope that today, now that your entire lifetime has passed, you will know love.
This one's for you:
"John Doe #24" by Mary Chapin Carpenter


  1. That breaks my heart. Especially all the more because my kids delivered home made valentines to our local nursing home, and when the kids gave them the valentines the reactions were the same as if you had handed them a million dollars. They were the forgotten people.

    Thank you for giving that poor man your love even if it was just for a little while. Thank you for reminding us that we need to be more generous with our kindness.

  2. It broke mine, too. Our elderly are indeed a forgotten people and that's both sad and scary. As my own parents age, it's something I think about quite often, actually.

    And thank you for your kind words, though I fear that my words for Jack came too late. I hope that my memory of him will encourage me not to leave it too later for others.

  3. Hi Liz,

    How could I not parrot Jennifer: "Yer Killing me...."

    When I was a teenager, there was an elderly couple who lived across the hall. We'd exchange pleasantries from time to time, but I didn't know them well. They had children, but I never saw them. It was always just the two of them. One day, he passed away while napping. She knocked on our door. I spent the day with her -- translating for her as the police and EMTs came and went. It was a Sunday, so it would be hours before the coroner would arrive and take her husband away. We sat together, though long periods of silence, as we waited. It was difficult to know what to say. When they finally wheeled her husband away I watched her sink deeper into her seat. I didn't want to leave, but she thanked me and said that she wanted to be alone. No children came. She was truly alone now.

  4. Oh, Ray.

    What a blessing, that she had you to cling to in those dark moments. What a shame that no children came, to share her grief, to remember with her. Did anyone ever arrive?

    I used to wonder at the adage, "It's better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all." I used to believe that it was better to have never known love, than to lose it.

    I was wrong. One can never go wrong, loving another - lover, parent, child, friend. At least, that's what I believe now, especially when I seem the look of "unlovedness" on the faces of those I support. Not all, but most. Too many.

    Too many.

    Lovely to "see" you here, Ray! Thanks for popping over!

    1. Hi Liz,

      Yes, one child arrived the next day, if I remember correctly.

      "Never to have loved" is too horrible to contemplate. It's hard for me to imagine that it's even possible, but I'm certain that a lot of love is not returned.

      I was glad to have found my way back here. I blame my Reader. I just can't keep up. :)