I visit my elderly aunt every week. She is in the dementia ward of the local Care Village. She turned ninety recently. I notice each week that there is a fellow sitting outside enjoying the sunshine. He has a beautiful smile and says hello to me as I pass by.
As time goes by, we start to exchange a few words about the weather or comment on the flowers in the well-cared for grounds.
Sometimes my aunt is agitated and doesn’t want to see me so I spend a bit more time with ‘the old man’ sitting outside. One day I introduce myself as Jenny and he tells me his name is Bill. Bill is also in his early nineties but he still has his wits about him. I often wonder about his past as he doesn’t seem to have any visitors and he doesn’t give much away about himself. He always asks after me and my family though. I can tell by the lines on his face that he has seen a lot in his life – not all of it has been good either.
Over the next weeks and months we get to know each other a little better. My aunt doesn’t even know who I am now but I still visit once a week and tend to spend a bit more time chatting to Bill. He tells me what mischief my aunt has been up to over the previous week. She keeps wanting to go home and tries to escape at every opportunity.
One day, I will muster up the courage to ask him to tell me a bit more about his life. He prefers to be the one asking the questions.
It just so happened that my most recent visit fell on Father’s Day. My Dad passed away some time ago and I spontaneously bought a box of chocolates for Bill. I didn’t want to embarrass him, so I casually gave them to him, saying, ‘I thought you might like these, Bill’. I was a bit nervous as I was unsure how he would respond. He was very quiet at first, then I noticed his eyes brimming with tears. I touched his hand and sat quietly beside him.
‘It is so kind of you, Jenny. I want to share something with you – if you have the time?’
‘Of course, Bill’, I replied.
He sat quietly and I could tell he was summoning up the courage to speak. He said, ‘I always look forward to your visits. I know that you really come to see your aunt, but I like to think that you come to see me too. You see, I don’t have any family. My parents died years ago and I had no brothers or sisters. I married a beautiful girl, Kathleen and we had a daughter called Jenny – just like your name.’
Bill paused again to catch his breath and then continued, ‘When Jenny had her tenth birthday we took her to the Zoo as a special treat. She really loved nature and especially animals. It was on the way home that our lives changed forever. A drunk driver went through a red light and smashed into our car. Kathleen and Jenny died that day’. He paused again, tears rolling freely down his cheeks now.
He went on, ‘I was in a coma in hospital for two weeks after the accident. When I came around and they told me about Kath and Jenny, my world fell apart. I didn’t want to go on living without them. Physically I got better over time but I was emotionally dead from that point on. Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months and years. The pain is still with me today, like it happened yesterday. However, I slowly learned to see the good in the world again. That is why I like to sit outside and look at the gardens and watch the birds. And now I am an old man.
Your kindness is like a ray of sunshine in my life. Please forgive me for my emotional outburst today, but it is so long since anyone has shown me such kindness. Thank you Jenny.’
I was very moved by what Bill told me and I wrapped my arms around him and no words were needed.