She was an elderly woman and she walked into my office with a long time volunteer. The volunteer asked me if I had any volunteer work for her to do. I queried her to see what she would be interested in doing within our organization. And as I spoke with her and gave her some options that I thought she might like she never once made eye contact with me. I would ask her a question and she would give her answer to the volunteer who brought her in. I found this rather disconcerting at first but just shrugged it off.
I later asked the volunteer, who brought her in, about her and she told that her husband had died a few months before and she was really struggling with it. She wanted to get her out of the house and out and about.
And so I started my journey with M. I had a hard time at first trying to find stuff for her to do. She didn’t want anything to do with computers. And she didn’t want to do anything complicated. And, and, and… eventually between me and the other volunteer (her friend) we found some things that M was quite happy to do.
Several times a day I would stop to see her and make sure everything was gong all right and if she had any questions for me. During this time I would try to make small talk with her. She wouldn’t really say too much to me and still wouldn’t make eye contact and would direct any answers to her friend who had first brought her in. It was like having a three-way conversation with two people. I wondered about it but didn’t let it bother me. She was a very reserved and private person. Something I could easily relate to
After several months M asked me if I could find some information for her. I said sure and after some digging around I found what she was looking for. This gave me the ‘in’ I needed in trying to break the ice with her. I asked about some of the info I had gotten for her. The ancestors of the family she married into were long time, well-known pioneers of the area.
And that’s how I started to get to know her. As we would talk about her pioneer relatives she started making eye contact and talking directly to me. It took some work and persistence on my part but we finally connected in some small way.
As time went on I found out that she could use some help in her home. I offered to help her if she wanted me to. She told me that she would keep it in mind. She shortly took me up on my offer. Over the next year and a half I did spring cleaning, organizing her stuff and yard maintenance as I had time and as she needed me.
During this time M started telling me some bits about her immediate family, about her husband and husbands family. She was still very private but gave me glimpses into her life. I considered it a privilege.
Ten months ago she broke her leg. I hadn’t heard from her for a few months and I decided to contact her to see what was up. This is when I found out what was going on. She had a non walking cast on and was in a wheelchair. I spent time with her over the next few months helping when I could. Little did we know that she would never walk again.
I started nagging her about her leg, something didn’t look right to me but I don’t know if she really pushed about it with the doctor. It was around this time she told that she thought there was something more going on with her health and had been for a while now. It was summer by now and she was expecting lots of company and going to go visit family. I ended up not seeing her for most of the summer.
I next heard she was in the hospital. Her leg wasn’t getting better and she was starting to lose the use of her other leg. I went to visit her. She seemed really depressed. She again told me that she thought something had been wrong with her for a while. After a month of being in the hospital a doctor finally sent her off for extensive testing. I didn’t see her for a couple of months as she was at a couple of out-of-town hospitals.
She got her diagnosis. A.L.S. I was stunned. Somehow I didn’t expect something like that. Last month she came back to the local hospital. I spent time visiting her. Her family and friends spent time with her.
Last week she went to the big city for an assessment so the doctors could see how her disease was progressing. I went to see her next day and once again was shocked. The ambulance ride there and back was really rough on her. I asked her how her assessment went and she said she didn’t receive good news. She told me she was scared and didn’t want to be alone. I spent as much time as I could with her. Her family and some friends started spending more time with her.
Yesterday, as I spent time at her bedside holding her hand in the last few hours of her life, snapshots of our short time together flashed through my mind. And I cried.
She died around midnight surrounded by her family. I will miss her.