Chicken Soup for the Soul was one of my favorite books to read in my younger years. The stories were short, some stories were heart-warming and some were heart-wrenching. But they gave a glimpse into some of the most profound moments of people’s lives. They were ordinary people with extraordinary stories. If you read my post on my change of perspective, you learned that I have been blessed to live around this country and even on the other side of the world. These experiences led me to witness, or be a part of some of the most incredible moments I could ever imagine. I am honored to share just a couple of these stories with you tonight, and most certainly more to come in future posts!
I have had the honor of meeting some of the most incredible humans as patients in my field of work. As a speech-language pathologist, I realized early on that I adore working with adults. There is something so incredible about people who are trying to regain what they once had through rehabilitation. This story, however, is about one patient who never would regain much. But the love between her and her husband rivals The Notebook in every sense. Because of HIPAA, I shall name them Edward and Thelma Samson 🙂
Thelma was a patient in our rehabilitation hospital primarily because she was having difficulty walking or being able to do basic self-care. Unfortunately, this was her fourth stroke. Her previous strokes had greatly impaired her thinking skills, language skills and her vision. If you have ever known someone with dementia, Thelma’s memory and social engagement was likely near that level. Thelma and Edward had been married for over 50 years, and man oh man did he love that sweet, white-haired woman. They were everything you’d hope an adorable, more elderly couple could be. He wore plaid, button-down shirts that were always tucked in. He was quiet, but kind to everyone he came in contact with. Edward got to the hospital every single morning at 7am sharp, so that he was there as Thelma woke up for breakfast. Every time I walked by her room, on the way to see another patient, I saw a sight that is ingrained in my mind forever. Thelma would be sitting in her wheelchair, turned just slightly toward the window, with her head down, but with a small, peaceful smile on her face. Edward would be pulled up in a chair right beside her, with one outstretched hand holding hers, and he would be looking at her like they were on their first date. Neither of them would be saying a word. They would be like that nearly every day, I’d imagine at any time Thelma was not doing therapy or having a meal.
I had the pleasure of working with Thelma on memory strategies. This was quite the task, however, as her vision greatly impaired her from being able to use these strategies. For anyone not familiar with this topic, memory strategies are tools such as using a calendar, or writing in a memory journal. We tried to focus on remembering things that mattered to her and her family. Thelma never knew what year it was, and definitely never knew what month it was. She could only mentally focus long enough to answer a question or two, and then would slip back into her withdrawn mental state. One session, we spent nearly the entire session trying to help her remember one thing: her and Edward’s anniversary, and how many years they had been married. We tried desperately to use large, bold font so that she could see the words and numbers through her fuzzy vision. Sometimes it worked and she could remember to look at her sheet and say these things aloud, and sometimes it did not. Edward was out in the therapy gym, ready to greet her as she started her physical therapy session right after my session with her. This was it; this was her big chance to show off what she could remember. I wheeled Thelma up to Edward and I asked her what she was supposed to remember. Thelma got a huge grin on her face and said “We got married in 19__ and we’ve been married for __ years!” She NAILED it!! But if that wasn’t miraculous enough of a moment, I looked up at Edward and saw his eyes fill with tears. She likely had not remembered this information since her first stroke. He took his handkerchief, wiped his eyes, and gave his bride a kiss after telling her for most-certainly the millionth plus time, that he loved her.
Thelma discharged home with her loving family. Just a short four weeks later, we learned that Thelma passed away from an unrelated pneumonia. She died peacefully in her home, surrounded by everyone she loved. All of us therapists, and even the rehabilitation doctor, cried in our weekly conference when we were told the news. We loved all of our patients, of course, but this couple was just one that you could never forget. Moments like I got to share and witness with them made me realize that true love is real, and truly can prosper for a lifetime.
I lived in a small apartment in Alcala de Henares, Spain, for four months. I was with my Spanish madre, Pili, her boyfriend, her daughter, and her daughter’s fiance. Pili was unlike anyone I had ever met. She highlighted her curly brown hair to blonde, always had fabulous pink lipstick on, and she walked around the apartment proudly without a care of how little she was wearing. She worked her tail off at the local post office, and her and her Argentinian boyfriend spent their nights laying in bed and smoking with the window open. She had a smile that lit up every room, professed her love for George Clooney more times than I could count, and had a heart unlike any I had ever encountered. Pili made me french fries for the first seven days, straight, that I was in her home. She did this because she thought that was what all Americans wanted to eat – oh boy, fellow Americans. We can do better! Ha!
Pili made me feel like another daughter of hers every day I was in her home. She had such little money, and yet, she would make sure to pick me up a beautiful $5 scarf from the market on Saturdays. She made me crepes and always bought my favorite yogurt. But the thing about this study abroad experience was, my classes were very, very challenging. I was taking 400 level classes in a SPANISH University! The stress got the best of me, and I started spending my afternoons in the fetal position for 2+ hours after lunch from horrible stomach pains. Pili kicked mom-mode up another notch. She would bring me a heating pad, took me to the local hospital where they would tell me I likely had a stomach ulcer, and she always let me take a hot bath whenever the pain was excruciating. Within the year after I came back to the U.S., Pili slowly stopped writing back to my emails. All in one year, her sister died of cancer, she and her boyfriend broke up, and she lost her job, so she could not longer take in study-abroad students.
I bet you are reading this thinking, I thought these were supposed to be inspiring stories? The truth is, I have sent the past three emails to Pili, with no response. A huge part of me is heartbroken for the loss of a connection I hoped to keep with someone so special to me. But an even bigger part of me simply remembers her with joy in my heart. We were total strangers. It took me the entire four months to get fluent enough in her native language that we could actually communicate effectively. But Pili welcomed me, broken Spanish, stomach ulcer and all, into her home like I was one of her own daughters. She treated me like family from day one, until the day I flew back over the pond. She used her miniscule English vocabulary to greet my parents via Skype, and sent back a bottle of wine for me to give my family when I got home. She taught me that two people from completely different sides of the world, with completely different lives, could be kind, compassionate, warm and welcome to one another with no questions asked. She continues to inspire me to this day.
I sat down to write this post and truly was unsure as to which stories I would share. Suddenly, these two stories were put on my heart and into this blog without hesitation. I feel humbled and blessed that so many more have now come to my mind, and I cannot wait to share more with you. But I hope that these stories, if even in the smallest way, touched your heart. I hope that they made you think of similar people you have met or miracles you have witnessed. Chances are, you may have a story yourself that has inspired others. My hope and prayer for you is that you keep your heart and your eyes open for things like these. It is too easy to get distracted, or disheartened by all of the things that seem to be wrong in our lives or the world. But if we can shift our focus to the small, but miraculous moments, life just might look a little bit brighter today.
Thank you for reading, friends. Have a wonderful week and stay cool out there <3
XoXo Lindsey Sholtis