I knock on the door unsure of what to expect. What is he like? What do I do if I get all my tasks done and there is still time? How will I help? Will he want my help? Will I be able to help him? Then he opens the door and I know that I am ready for this new adventure into caregiving. He is leaning heavily to the right on his cane, his shirt is halfway buttoned, and his belt is on backwards but collectively the look is charming. He tips his hand, smiles widely and says good morning to me.
It’s slightly awkward at first. This is his home and has been for the last 40 years. I am a stranger here in his space. We head to the living room to sit down and get to know each other. He gets in his recliner and places a knit blanket over his lap. I tell him a little about me and answer all of his questions. Then I ask him to tell me his story. I am fascinated by the life that he has lived. He has been talking for over an hour and I can tell, he just needs to be heard. He needs to know that he still matters.
I realize that it is time for lunch, so I ask him what he likes. He tries to get up and offers to make us both lunch. I remind him that I am there to help and that I would be glad to make him lunch. He wants a grilled cheese and a bowl of soup. There are specific dishes that he wants me to use and a certain way he wants it to be cooked. I am intimidated at first but remind myself that I will learn his needs over time. After he finishes eating, I wash the dishes and ask him how else I can help. “I hate to ask,” he says, “but it has become really difficult to change the sheets on the bed. Would you mind doing that?”
I go to the bedroom with him and he talks to me while I strip the bed, telling me how his wife always did this job. Then he tells me all about her and their life together. It makes me happy to hear his joy as he tells me their love story. I put on the new sheets then he thanks me profusely because he can’t remember the last time he had clean sheets on his bed. He walks me slowly but certainly to the laundry room and I throw the dirty ones into the laundry. I offer to make him dinner for later while the washer is running. We head back to the kitchen and I notice that he is growing tired. I walk him back to his recliner to rest while I make his meal.
Once everything is done, I sit with him for a few minutes and tell him that I will be back next week. I see his eyes glisten as he says, “I am looking forward to it.” In that moment I realize that I am too.