This I believe, that everyone needs a visitor. When I was nine years old, my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It is a disease that affects not only the person’s body, but their emotions, their personality, their memory. Due to this merciless disease, my grandfather had to live in a nursing home for the last years of his life. I would often visit him with my parents. Some days he knew who I was, others he didn’t. It was both wonderful and painful on the days that he did remember. On one hand, it was amazing to see recognition when he looked into my eyes. On the other, there was no way to know how long that would last, and it made it harder to lose him into the depths of his own mind.
But even though he didn’t always know who I was, we’d visit him all the same, he always had someone. My grandmother visited my grandfather almost every day. After being married for over 50 years, she still loved him with all her heart, and it hurt to be away for too long. Over the years, my grandfather lived in a few different nursing homes, but he always had a roommate. I don’t remember ever once running into a family member of these men, or seeing flowers by their bedsides. It hurt to see these other men without visitors.
I remember one time that it was just me, my mother, and my grandmother visiting my grandpa, and it was around the Fourth of July. My grandma suggested that we sing a patriotic song, so we chose “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” I was 13 years old at the time, and I remember just looking over at the man in the next bed and seeing tears streaming down his face as we sang. When we were done, he said “that was beautiful.” A simple song was enough to bring a man to tears. At the end of that visit, we held hands and prayed. I remember holding the man’s cold hands and praying that someone close to him would come to visit.
My grandfather always had people there to turn on the Saints when he wanted to watch his favorite football team or just tell him that they loved him. The men in the next bed didn’t. They had no visitors to hear the stories they could tell, or take the time to care.
When my grandfather died in 2000, he died surrounded by his family. Not family that he hadn’t seen in years, but family that had been with him in sickness and in health, through richer and poorer. And even though he may not have known all of the names, he knew that he was loved because he had visitors. Everyone needs this, even the lonely men in nursing homes. Everyone needs a visitor.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.