She is an example of what happens when we don’t let go of past hurt. She moves through the halls in an almost silent ghostly way. She seems to apologize for her very existence when she speaks and she holds her body in a shameful way. I wanted to know her and know why this is how she presents herself to the world.
It took several months of just smiling at her and saying hello before she would speak to me. After about a year, she finally talked to me. She told me how she had just had cataract surgery and it had left her blind in one eye. I told her how sorry I was that this had happened to her. She said these things always happen to her. I tried to speak blessings and positivity into her life. I told her good things are on their way, the universe has unlimited blessings with her name on them. She told me she had been waiting more than forty years and they hadn’t shown up yet, as she wheeled away.
The weeks went by, every time I saw her I said hi and tried to wrap her in a positive bubble of light and love. Then one day, she stopped me in the hall and just unloaded everything. She said,”My husband cheated on me with my best friend. Our four children were under the age of 10. One of the twins has cerebral palsy. And he left me for her! My best friend had four children of her own and he raised those children. He abandoned his children for hers!” She let it out with such force and pain that I felt as if I was going to fall over. I had to lean against the wall as I asked her when this happened. How she described it, you would have thought it happened yesterday. She found out about the affair more than forty years ago. She has held the anger, sadness, betrayal inside for forty years. Her feelings about this awful time have robbed her of any joy for all of these years.
After she shared this with me, more of her behaviors started to make sense. She was always paranoid that people were talking about her. She would come up to me after an activity and ask me why my dad, myself, and a few others were laughing. Were we talking about her? Was there a secret that we knew that she didn’t? Of course this was never the case. I slowly began to notice the other residents would stop talking when she would approach the group, adding to her paranoia. I would ask later why they would do that and it was because they felt like she was out to prove them wrong or that she was weird. Her distrust and feelings of betrayal of her husband and best friend had created the self fulfilling prophecy that she lives in everyday.
There was a staff member that would tease her about a silly thing everyday. Each time I witnessed him tease her, she would be visibly upset. I asked her about it and she said she hated that he teased her and that it was the worst part of her day. I asked if she had ever asked him to stop and she said no. I encouraged her to talk to him about it.
For one week she came to sit at the dining table with my dad. Every meal she would apologize for being there and then as she drove away she’d thank them for letting her sit with them. It became so sickening to one of the women at the table, that she moved to a different table rather than talk to her about it or ask her to move. My dad also didn’t like having her there because it made him uncomfortable and he was upset that his friend left the table. I suggested to my dad and his friend that they use this as an opportunity to be honest with her. Neither of them jumped at this opportunity. So I went to talk to her.
I asked her how she felt sitting at the table with my dad. She told me that she never felt like one of the gang at any table she sat at. She felt betrayed by the woman leaving. She felt guilty that she forced her to leave by her presence. She was stuck in the same emotions. I asked her if it would be ok to be honest with her, to share with her my observations. She said yes, so I did. I told her I was sorry for the struggles she has gone through, I was sorry for the hand she was dealt, I was sorry for the pain, sorry for the betrayal she experienced. I told her that living with it so fresh in her mind was preventing her from moving forward. It was casting a huge shadow over everyone she comes in contact with. I thanked her for being a teacher to me and for sharing her story with me. I asked if she would like to talk with my dad about it and I would support her. She said no. She told me that she would need some time to think about what I said and that she wasn’t sure if she could be my friend anymore.
That night at dinner, we sat there in silence, the staff member walked by and I saw her shoulders tense as if she was about to to get hit. He said the thing he always says as he walked by, but this time she looked in my eyes and I knew she was ready. I called the man to the table and said she would like to say something to you, she looked at me so scared but she pushed through and said,”I don’t like it when you say that to me. Please don’t ever say it again.” He told her he was so sorry and that he would never say it again and he hasn’t. She looked at me with gratitude and she moved to a different table after that night. She is now at a table with women that laugh and talk with her and she seems happy. She is still deciding if she would like to be my friend, she not talking to me at this point, but I am so thankful for my interactions with her. She has taught me so much. I hope she can find happiness and peace.