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On a cold January morning I made my way to the St Mary's Old-Age Home as early as 7:30am whereby I was entrusted as a volunteer at the Home. The waiting area was filled with natural light. The floor was fitted with lush wall to wall carpets. Two sofas and a side table were placed at each corner of the lounge. An elegant cut glass vase with a beautiful mix of pink tulips and white lilies was put on a very fine detailed wooden table.
Just across this warm and comfortable lounge was the reception area where a young lady was busy preparing a chart. I watched her as she quickly and repeatedly referred back and forth from the laptop to the chart. I patiently waited for her to assign me to perform my duties.
It wasn't long enough that she gestured to me to come forward and to be seated by her side. "Your name please"? she asked, I answered, "my name is Disha" smiling warmly at her. She handed me a chart whereby I noticed a to-do list scheduled with remarks across the page. As I was just beginning to read the page, she asked me to kindly follow her to room number 9 whereby I was to meet with Ms Claire for the very first time.
As Ann the receptionist walked me up to her room, I noticed that the corridor had many rooms on each side. Ann suddenly stopped walking and briefly reminded me to keep a close eye on the chart from time to time. I nodded and smiled in affirmation. She knocked at the door and swung the door open and greeted Ms Claire. Quickly yet briefly Ann introduced me to Ms Claire and within a short while Ann left to continue with her work.
Ms Claire was seated by the window in her room. She seemed to be in her mid-seventies with hardly any wrinkles. Her eyes were brown in colour, her hair was grey and neatly cut.
I handed her the bouquet of flowers that I had picked up earlier on the way to the old age home and greeted her with a warm hug. As she received the bouquet, she looked me in the eyes and warmly hugged and greeted me with her radiant smile and then she asked me to sit by her side.
She kept looking at the bouquet, as though it triggered some memories. I sat quietly by her side since I did not want to disturb her thoughts and she continued to smile. We were briefly interrupted by a knock at the door. A lady appeared with a tray of breakfast, greeted Ms Claire, and placed the tray on her coffee table and left the room.
I offered to serve Ms Claire her breakfast. As I picked up the cloche placed on the tray, I noticed a tempting variety of mouth-watering spread of food, with a plate of scrambled eggs, a multigrain slice of bread, slices of strawberries and kiwi, a slice of a mixed fruit cake and a bowl of cereal, along with it came a pot of tea and a glass of orange juice.
I carefully handed her the plate and sat beside her as I watched her take her first bite. Ms Claire seemed to be a cheerful and graceful lady although deep inside my heart I felt a sense of sadness gleaming from the corners of her eyes.
While she enjoyed her breakfast, I quickly glanced over the chart that Ann had handed over to me, earlier. I referred to the chart as "the timetable" as it had elaborate detailed instructions on a variety of tasks to be completed in time.
I noticed an empty vase by her bedside table, I picked it and headed to the washroom, to add some water and arranged the bouquet of flowers I had brought for Ms Claire. My attention was drawn to a photo frame that was placed by her handbag, my curiosity took the best of me to look at it but lost the chance as It was time for me to take Ms Claire outside to the garden for a walk according to the schedule.
Initially I thought it would be a very challenging task for me to convince Ms Claire to take a walk as earlier on I had read a remark beside a column on the chart which clearly stated, "very tough". As I wondered how to persuade her, I sat down on the floor by her side and began a conversation. "Ms Claire" I said to her "has anybody told You that You have the most beautiful smile and that you are so graceful". She smiled at me as if to signal affirmatively.
I then mentioned to her about a variety of beautiful flowers blooming in the garden and how the birds chirped and bathed in the fountain. Not much effort was needed to convince her and then suddenly she held my hand and asked me to take her outside. Excited at her reaction I didn't waste any time and helped her get on her feet.
Ms Claire continued to walk with a smile. As we walked past the reception area, Ann was awestruck. I couldn't help but observe the faces of the surprised staff. We finally made our way into the garden. Ms Claire seemed to be enjoying her walk as she carefully walked towards every flower she could and took her time to smell each one. The garden had roses of all colours, tulips, lilies, and lavender.
As we approached a bench near a beautiful fountain, Ms Claire asked if we could have a seat, I happily obliged with her. We sat comfortably on the bench by the fountain she said with a smile, " Thank You Disha for taking me outside and giving me enough time to smell every flower, this has been one of my best, most favourite and memorable walks that I have ever had in a long time".
Suddenly I remembered to refer to the chart which I had carefully placed in my pocket. Ms Claire held my hand and said to me "my Dear child, please do not follow the schedule, it feels like a timetable". I just want to enjoy the rest of my day to the fullest without being subjected to a series of scheduled activities.”
She said, "Life should not be followed by a set of rules and regulations, it becomes boring. I don't need someone to tell me how to spend my day but instead I'd love for someone to sit beside me, to talk to me, to care and listen about some of my life's experiences. Sadly no one seems to hear me out”, she burst into sobs.
I comforted her and hugged her and waited for her to feel better. Hurriedly I went towards the self-service beverage area and took a bottle of water and some tea and gave them to Ms Claire. I watched her as she slowly sipped her tea and tightly gripped my hand with the other. The void Ms Claire felt was not too obvious for me to ignore. A deep sense of loss of not having someone to love, understand and to be cared for is what Ms Claire seemed to be facing.
This brief meeting was enough for me to understand that life should not be spent by a series of monotonous routines or by setting strict boundaries, but instead, life should be celebrated every single moment.
Our life rotates around the never-ending duties, responsibilities and sacrifices. In order to live a meaningful life, what really counts is having the privilege to make time for loved ones, for it is one of the richest treasures in life that one can own.
February is the season of expressing love, let us get more in touch with the power of celebrating the true essence of love by devoting it to our loved ones and also by rendering it to those who have not been so privileged enough not to experience love such as the homeless, those at the old age homes, orphanages and even to the pets at shelters.
This is not only what I learned from Ms Claire. I was marvelled at her as she shared with me some more wisdom.
To be continued….
By Disha Sharma