Her name was AgnusMay 16, 2000 Write an essay on this topic.
The past century has brought forth numerous advancements and discoveries. Unfortunately along the way, have been just as many mishaps and misfortunes. Looking back, we look at history. We look back, to do more than stare in awe. We look to see where we have come from. We see what adversity we have overcome, and what lessons we have gained. We look to the pages of books and the images of pictures. All the while, we too often forget the elderly, the living texts and windows to the past. They are the real purveyors of history. They have insight that books will never reveal. In their stories endure a vitality and message unseen on first glance, which they once held tight. The real history of the recent past is sitting in a nursing home or waiting for a call from a grandson. The real knowledge of the past is walking with a cane and limping along. With each passing day, more knowledge is gained, but sadly, without an ear to listen, even more is lost. Think of how much history lies below the cold gray stones of any cemetery in America. Think of how much could have been saved. All the lesson that could have been learned. All the mistakes from the past, buried six feet deep, which we must now repeat.
Her name was Agnus. She was alone. She was scared. Confusion and fear consumed much of the proud woman she had once been. These harsh realities now seem clear to me. They did not seem so when I was a 13 year old, volunteering in a local nursing home. She was not my grandmother, but she was someone's.
I began volunteering as a way to keep myself busy. At first, it was difficult to connect. I would sit amongst those from a different time, out of place, not knowing how to initiate a conversation. But, as I came back a few times, I started to remember names. I remembered faces, although many did not remember mine.
After the second visit, the volunteer coordinator trusted me enough to let me wander throughout the corridors and stop in and speak with any of the patients. I was filled with self importance as I cruised the place with undue ownership.
I saw, with the help of a card on a door that it was someone's birthday. I stopped in to greet her. The name on the card was Agnus Rutger. I saw a smiling reflection in the window as a woman looked out at some birds feeding on a frost covered bird feeder. I asked if she was Agnus. She replied, "Why, yes I am." I wished her a happy birthday and asked if I could sit down.
As I sat down, Agnus began to talk to me as if she had known me her whole life. She asked no questions beyond the usual "How are you doing?" I listened as she spoke of her family. Her husband had died years ago and she was left with a son who had recently given her a grandchild. She would soon be leaving MarianWood she told me. The food was bad and they didn't let her watch the "Young and the Restless." Her son was going to pick her up and she'd stay with him. At the very least he would come to visit.
We had been warned not to encourage these sort of ideas with the residents. The harsh truth as the volunteer coordinator said was that this was the last stop of life's journey for most of these folks. It was cruel to give them false hope. It was one of the many suggested rules, along with the fact that becoming emotionally attached was frowned upon, which made no sense to me.
My conversation with Agnus wound down as she grew cloudy with tiredness. She had gotten up early because her son was coming and bringing her new grandson Joshua. He was running late though and she wanted to take a nap before they came. I told her I understood and shook her hand. "I'll see you next time," I told her and walked out of the room.
I was curious as to what was holding up her son, so I went to the nurses station to ask. "Mrs. Rutger isn't expecting any visitors," came the reply. All at once I understood. I felt loneliness as I never had before.
On my next visit, I made it a point to visit Agnus. I set aside my last hour to see her. I knocked on her door and she politely invited me in to see her. She called me Jim. I corrected her and told her that it was Jason, thinking nothing of it. Unlike last time, she asked questions of me. Many of the questions seemed out of place. As she began to ask of people I had never heard of, I realized she had me confused with someone else. I had found out that Agnus was in the early to middle stages of Alzheimer's and switched between reality and memory.
"You always were my favorite son," she touched my arm. I felt a chill. She thought I was her son, the one who hadn't visited her the last time and probably rarely if ever did regardless. I didn't know what to do. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I was not her son Jim and that once again, he wasn't there when she needed him.
I played along. I answered her questions as best I could and spent an hour being someone I wasn't. I had broken the "don't give false hope" policy and in the process, I also became attached to Agnus. I was torn apart inside to realize that such a sweet woman was being ravaged within her mind by such a horrible disease.
"I knew you'd come visit. I knew you'd make me proud and come." I smiled though I wanted to cry. I laughed though I wanted to scream in anger. My hour had drawn to a close. I told Agnus I had to go. This time it was a hug appropriate for a son, rather than a handshake for a stranger.
I left feeling worse than before. That night I decided I could not volunteer at the nursing home anymore. I couldn't handle all the stress.
About a month later, as Christmas neared, my mom baked cookies and breads to give away. I asked if I could take some to a friend. She said it was fine and drove me to MarianWood. I went inside hoping the sweets would make Agnus' day a little brighter.
I walked in to her room and saw a familiar silhouette against the window, but as I neared, I realized it was not Agnus. "Is Agnus here?" I asked. No reply came from the woman.
I walked out to the nurses station to see where she was. I was told Agnus had passed away the week before. "Oh, thank you." I didn't know what the appropriate response was. There I was standing in the corridor holding a box of Christmas cookies. I didn't know what to do. I walked passed the room again and stopped in. I handed the woman who hadn't spoken before the cookies and wished her a "Merry Christmas." She smiled.
As I walked out through the musty halls, I thought of Agnus. I had learned from her a lesson, although at the time I didn't realize what exactly it was. In retrospect, I learned that rules concerning caring and attachment can not work. Agnus taught me that running away from complications does not help. Because I was afraid to get involved, I missed out on a friend.
I still think back to my final conversation with Agnus. If her son never visited her after that, then I knew I had done something. I had been there for her, at least once, when she had needed someone.
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