by Grace Beilman
My biggest fear in life is death.
About six months ago I decided to take a job in an elderly home. Like the memories of the residents, my memories of the elderlyhome have started to fade out and blend together since my last day. As I put in my two weeks notice, my experiences formed a bank of wisdoms that calm my fear of death, something I believed I could never escape. I crossed paths with many interesting souls throughout my job, but a few stuck out.
Nick, a resident since the beginning of my career. He was a war veteran who taught me lessons of rightful anger and patience. He had limited patience with new waitresses, which often led to bullseye shots of biscuits that he proclaimed too dry. he was one of my first customers during my early morning shifts and I never forgot to bring his regular order, two eggs “looking right at you” and “don’t forget the rye toast.” He left me with a message I would never forget: “Be safe. And if you can’t be safe, be careful.”
Mary, or British Mary as I liked to call her, is by far one of the most interesting people I have ever interacted with. Born and raised in the USA, I often found Mary asking me for tea and crumpets with an almost foolproof British accent. She was always in search of something, whether that be a new friend, donuts (which we never served), or a fifth husband to “increase her wealth.” She would slip silverware and centerpieces into her walker, later being caught opening a drawer of stolen items. She was crazy, but her strange requests and table-hopping left me with a smile and forced me to believe that you could indeed be whoever you wanted to be.
Another woman named Joan always stopped me in the middle of a busy service to make sure that I was taking deep breaths. She told me of growing up in the war and how the most important thing a child can do is to listen to their parents. Her most memorable anecdote was of a time she worked in a diner during a power outage and got complimented by a mysterious woman on a motorcycle. She had accidentally slipped chocolate milk into the woman’s coffee, but it was later mentioned as “the best cup of coffee ever made.” The motorcycle woman soon came to be something I looked to for encouragement and inspiration to live a life of fun without regrets.
Chuck, a special case, was moved to full-time memory care a month before I left. He, along with his wife Audrey, were my first customers. He could never remember who I was, but I made sure that his chair was pulled out and ready before service started, and he giggled when he arrived to find a cold glass of vitamin water already waiting for him. On the way out of the dining room, he gave me a shaky wave goodbye, often turning his wheelchair around to face me. Near the end, I would sneak him pieces of cherry pie to trigger his memory, even though he wasn’t supposed to have them. Even after Audrey’s death, I found
him in the hallway nearly falling asleep in his chair with a blissful grin spread across his face.
Although the memories are scattered and broken, these residents flipped my life upside down and backwards. Seeing their lives coming to a close, I understood that death was a culmination of everything that made life so interesting. They really lived up until their last moments and were never unhappy with where they were or what they had accomplished. I walked in on my first day terrified of growing old, but I walked out having a new appreciation for the lives we live and the legacies we leave behind.