Old And Alone

There’s a lady I met years ago.  I think about her quite a bit.  Mostly because having met her, I have a little dent in my heart.  I liked her.  Though I didn’t think she liked me.   She didn’t smile a lot when I met her.   And I always managed to interrupt her lunch time when I went to visit her.

I sat at the counter, across from her, as she ate her volunteer delivered meal.   The volunteer was the only person she saw, ever, besides me.  Once she lost her ability to drive she only saw family and friends who came to visit.  But she was the last of her family.   So she had no family visiting her.   And she didn’t have friends so none of them visited either.

Her smiles took a long time to show up.  But once they did, they were great rewards for my visits to her.  And because it was usually during lunch, I smile softly now, seeing the lunch bits stuck to her teeth.   One of our talks has never left me.  I may have shared this with you all before.   But the saddest thing I ever heard was when we were having a nice visit one day and I asked her why she never married.

She looked at me so matter of factly and said:   “I guess no one ever wanted me.”  It still breaks my heart to think of this.   And I chastise myself frequently for having asked the question.

She told me stories that for some reason I could vividly picture.  She told me of her working days.  And how she liked everyone but no one really paid her much attention.   When she and the other women would have to go to trainings in the big city she would drive.   They would talk amongst themselves all the way there and back while she drove.  And I pictured her driving, wearing those old fashioned cat-eye glasses, both hands on the wheel, wearing a hat.  She driving while the other office ladies talked around Mary.

Normally we sat at the counter in the kitchen.   Occasionally we would sit in the living room.  Once, she took me to the spare bedroom to show me her family heirlooms.   Old, old bedstead.  A very large portrait of her ancestors.   Mostly women.  from the 1880’s?   Maybe up to the early 1900’s.   It was fantastic.  All of  these very serious women.   Severe looking in the hair do of the time.  No smiles.   Glasses.  Hair in buns everywhere you looked.   Serious, serious faces.  But she pointed them out and told me what they did.  Some of them were professionals.  And by the era of the picture, they were professionals long before women were accepted as professionals.   And I don’t mean the world’s oldest profession.   But heads of schools, businesses.

She told me of her family’s involvement in helping build this town.

I remember standing there, in the midst of her family history, and wonder what would happen to it.  Where would it go?   I still wonder what happened to it.   I wish I could have saved it.  I would have imagined all kinds of stories for her pictures.   Her family history.   No one else is.   There is no one else.

In all of the times I have thought of her I have pictured her in her little house.  Sitting, alone, for 23 hours and 55 minutes every day.   The meal volunteer maybe taking up five minutes of her day.   Likely not even that.  I’m not minimizing that five minutes.  She loved her volunteers.  She appreciated them.  And the smiles they gave her, she would relive by smiling when she would tell me about her volunteer meal delivery.  That delivered meal, and that delivered smile, went a very long way in her very lonely life.  It made a difference.  And I saw it.

She ended up going to an extended care facility.  I went to see her there.  I saw her decline.   But she didn’t forget me.  Though she did keep asking the staff where the little girl was she was baby sitting.   And though I was involved and the facility knew I was involved, I was not informed of her death.   She passed, alone.  And I read it in the news paper as part of my every day duties for work.  And I documented it.  And I was sad.  because the obituary reported her death, and that she had been cremated and buried already.   No services or calling hours observed.

I was upset that those with her at the end did not think anyone would want to know about her passing.  I wanted to know.

I went to the cemetery.   I took her flowers.   I told her I was sorry.

And I think of her often.  I’d like to know there will be others who might think of her too.   Her name was Mary.   She lived alone.   She lived.   She told me she liked me “from the very start” and that she really liked my smile, it made her happy.

I remember being surprised when she told me this.  Because I didn’t think she thought about me one way or the other.  But she did.  And that in turn made me happy.

I hope someone reads this.  Pictures little old Mary.  And wonders about her.  Who was she?  What did she do for eighty years?   What about her mom and dad?  Did she have siblings?   Did she have friends, ever?   I know the answers to some of this stuff.   But I just want someone else to think about her.  And know she lived.   And that someone liked her.