Let's call him Frank. He had shown up over the weekend at our senior community, saying his house had sold suddenly and he needed to move in 2 weeks. It was one of those “we buy houses for cash” deals, and they wanted the old farmhouse and the land that surrounded it. He hadn’t thought much about moving since she died and now there was no time to waste.
He greeted us politely and we walked into the old farmhouse. The fields were dusty
and there was little air moving, inside or out. He was polite, but barely made
eye contact. I told him that we were here to help him decide what his new home
should look like. That we wanted it to function in the best way possible, and
look great to boot. The house was charming, one of those “added-on-in-every-direction” farmhouses, but there was something sad and a bit dim about it, too.
He was young, only 64, and still working. But his company was moving to the Midwest from Pennsylvania and he decided this is where he would get off the train. A son lived nearby and it didn’t make sense to uproot and move across the country at this time.
But there was a deep darkness in his eyes. As we walked through the house and I’d say, “This is nice! Is this something you’d like to take along?” He would look deep in my eyes, touch my forearm and say, “Do you think I should take it?? I don’t really know.” And then he’d add, “Really, I’m somewhere between lost and totally lost.” So I linked my arm in his and told him I would help him decide and that we’d create a floor plan with what I thought was the best of the best... and then he could help us decide if it worked for him.
The bedroom was in the old dining room. A hospital bed still set up next to a twin
bed. He said, “she” a couple of times, when referring to this item or that and I asked, “is ‘she’ your wife?” “Oh, yes,” he said. He mentioned “her” again and I asked him quietly, “What was ‘her’ name?” “My wife’s?” “Yes,” and I smiled. His face clouded and he said, “Sarah.” “Oh, Sarah is a lovely name!” I said. “We called her Sally,” he said, seriously. “I love Sally even more,” I said.
We finished walking the house, and I couldn’t help but notice that the living room and the old parlor room were loaded with curios filled with bells and angels. His sister and her husband were planning to help him pack them up for sale. He had told us and his son had already been loading a storage bin with items he wanted to take along.
I asked about the bells and the angels and he said that “she had had cancer for 11 years... one different kind after another.” People gave them to her as gifts. I told him I was sorry for his loss and asked how long she had been gone. From the looks of things, it was only weeks or maybe months. “Three years,” he said.
I looked at him, sighed and smiled. “Would you like to tell us about Sally?” I asked.
And I saw a slight glimmer in his eye. “Sure, he said. Shall we sit on the screen
porch?” Well, we sat out there, the three of us, for another hour and a half.
Even in the late August day, on the shady porch, the heat was stifling. He told all kinds of stories of the places they had been and the things they laughed about. He had cared for her, all that time, and loved her deeper than anyone I had ever met.
My daughter and I sat in a pair of those “spinny”, woven, hanging chairs and he smiled to see us gently turn in them. My daughter and Frank had hit it off and my heart warmed to see her opening up a bit, as he did, too. He was happy we liked the chairs, as he and Sally had loved to swing in them and enjoy the view.
As we left, we promised to return soon, with a full plan to get him moved into his
beautiful new home, which we said would make Sally proud. He smiled and reminded us that he was still a bit stuck between “lost and totally lost,” but that he trusted us to finish the job!
Two weeks later, he had left behind most of the angels and bells and definitely the hospital bed that had kept him company every night. We had him all unpacked on a Saturday afternoon, and even got the artwork hung -- nicer than he could imagine, he said! 1000 sq. ft. of the best of his happy memories and a place to make a new start.
From that day on, he was like the Lucky Charms Leprechaun. He had come to life like it was nobody’s business! A new start and a new sense of community had broken the
chains of despair. We still send cards and write occasionally, but he’s usually too busy at his new job or out and about for us to catch him at home. Happy as that all is, the best part of this story happened on the drive home, that very first night.
The 4:30 appointment ended at 7:30pm. Still steamy and with a long drive ahead, my
daughter got in the car and gazed out the window. I’m thinking, she would never want to come along again, after 3 hours in a hot, dark house.
But then she said, “Mom? I think he’s my favorite, so far.” “Really?” I asked. “Yes. He’s such a deep and thoughtful thinker.” I agreed. And then she said, still gazing
outward, “Remember when you said you wanted to do something really important?” “Yes”, I replied. And she turned and look at me with a far off gaze and said, “This is really important stuff.” And I knew she was right.