The Threads That Bind – Part Two
I rewrote a post a few days ago and forgot to change the title. If you haven’t read The Threads That Bind – Part One, you might want to visit that post first. This is a continuation of my journey.
My belief that a common thread connects us all was reinforced during my second life-story recording.
My manager led the way into the patient’s home. After brief introductions, I explained why I was there and handed the man a few papers. “These are questions, prompts of sort, to help you get started, if you decide you want to make an audio tape for your family.”
He drew his brows tight and twisted his mouth, pushing the papers aside. “I’m not doing the recording.”
The response did not surprise me. Few people feel they have a story to tell. Regardless, I wasn’t going to let the visit go to waste. While my role with the hospice group was primarily to record stories, I wanted to make a difference. “How about if I come by for a visit every week, just to talk?”
The man studied my face for a moment. “What would we talk about?”
I smiled. “Anything you’d like. Sports? Movies? Do you play cards or checkers?”
He thought about it and finally agreed. As promised, I returned with no agenda other than to brighten his day. I brought along fresh blueberry muffins, something he’d mentioned on our first visit. I chuckled when he suggested I could bring chocolate on my next visit.
On the fourth visit, he surprised me. He handed me the papers I’d left on my first visit. I glanced at them and noticed a one-word answer after each question.
A half smile pushed his slender cheek up before he spoke. “I’m ready.”
And so began the journey. As he talked, he became more comfortable with the process. When he shared stories of bar-hopping with a group of friends, I was intrigued. The recollections were the same as told by Tom. It turned out that my cousin’s husband was one of this man’s best friends with whom he made the tavern rounds. They had lost touch over the years. Unfortunately, Tom had passed, but his wife was delighted to be reconnected to someone who shared her past experiences.
The validation that I was exactly where I was supposed to be filled me with joy and anticipation of where my journey would take me next. I met many people, some whose stories I recorded, others who I listened to as a friend.
And then it happened. On the initial visit with another patient, the opportunity to achieve my dream presented itself.
It was a sunny Friday afternoon. A middle-aged woman invited me into the quaint, senior-living apartment. A bouquet of flowers scented the room. A young girl sat on the floor cross-stitching on fabric.
The woman made introductions, extending her hand toward the child. “This is my daughter. She likes to sew. Her grandmother taught her.”
I smiled and greeted her. “Nice to meet you. What beautiful work you do.”
The woman directed me to an older, robust woman who was busy rearranging a large stack of assorted papers and clippings. “This is my mother.”
I extended my hand, “It’s so nice to meet you. How are you today?”
“Fine.” Her voice was as firm as her handshake.
My curiosity urged me to ask, “Looks like you have some important papers there.”
“When can we get started?”
The abrupt response surprised me. “It sounds like you’re ready.” I sat down next to her. “I don’t usually start recording on the first visit. It helps if we prepare for it by getting to know each other a little first. That way I can be sure we meet your wishes and make the best audio we can. Would that be alright?”
A pained expression covered the woman’s face. “What I really want…” she hesitated before continuing, tears brimming. “I wanted to write my life story, but I don’t know where to start and I don’t have enough time.” Her eyes pleaded for understanding.
A tingle ricocheted through my body. I touched her hand in reassurance. “I love to write. I’ve always wanted to write someone’s life story or help them write it.” I drew in a breath while contemplating my offer. “Perhaps that’s why I’m here. God works in mysterious ways. Maybe I can help you.”
The words seemed to lift her frown. “Really? Would you? I can’t do it by myself.”
“I’d be happy to help. I’m excited and can’t wait to get started.”
She pushed the pile of papers in my direction. “Take these with you and read them, if you have time?”
“I’d be honored. How about 1:00 p.m. on Monday? Will that work for you?”
“Oh, yes. That would be fine.” She reached for my hand and squeezed it. “Thank you.”
“It’s my pleasure. I’ll see you Monday and we’ll jump right in.”
I spent Saturday, reading the scribbled notes and brief stories, trying to place them in chronological order. The woman’s parents had owned a 350 acre farm in South Dakota and in the menagerie of papers, I found an essay written by her mother. It described the challenges of feeding twenty-five farmhands during harvesting in the 1900’s. It was a piece of history that had been entrusted to me.
On Sunday, I received a call from the volunteer manager telling me that the woman had passed away. My heart ached knowing her wish went unfulfilled. I planned to return all the paperwork to the family, but before I could, I received another phone call from the hospice manager. “The family asked if you could help write the book for the patient. They want to meet with you to discuss it if you are interested.”
A couple of meetings and two months of emails between family members allowed me to piece together the information. Additional stories were shared and incorporated by her children and surviving sister. The woman’s wish had been fulfilled. I have no doubt that a greater force brought us together for that very reason.
The simple act of giving my time returned ten-fold, not in money, but something much more gratuitous. I admire the people who share their life stories to create the audio recordings. They allow families to continue to hear their voice after they’re gone and by filling a void in their lives, they’ve filled the void in mine.
How has volunteering blessed you? I’d love to hear your stories.