Thursday, September 27, 2007

Harold and Maude Revisited

Harold and Maude Revisited
Romance in a nursing home can be a very sweet thing. The need for companionship and affection does not wane with age, and may in fact increase as people lose their ability to rationalize and more than ever feel a strong urge to hold on tight to another human being. That might have been the case with Francesca and Tom, had they not been nearly 50 years apart in age. You see Francesca was a patient in the home, while Tom was merely a young volunteer at the hospital
Francesca had never been an affectionate woman, and as a Serbian woman who had seen a great deal of war, there had also not been much time for laughter in her life. As the years passed, Francesca eventually left Serbia after her husband died, and she had come to America to work as a seamstress until her mind had started to wander. At first she simply forgot little things like turning the sewing machine off, but eventually her condition worsened and she had been admitted to the hospital when she started a fire in her kitchen and had nearly burned her house down. As a shy and rather private woman, she had very few friends in America, and during visiting hours she often found herself wishing she had been a little friendlier to people.
Tom on the other hand was outwardly a very friendly guy. He volunteered at the nursing home because he loved to talk and joke and share stories with the residents, and he often could be seen dancing and serenading the ladies in the home whenever he had some free time. But deep down Tom was a lonely guy as well, laughing on the outside but missing something on the inside that let him feel close to others.
When Tom first met Francesca he saw how lonely she was, and perhaps even saw a little of himself when he looked and saw the sadness in her eyes. Immediately he knew he wanted to cheer her up and make her happy. Francesca had been at first startled when this big, red young man had sprung up on her and begun belting out “Let me call you sweetheart” over a microphone. She remembered that song though, and she couldn’t help humming along as he sung, and soon she was lost in her memories.
She looked up again and the boy was on a new song now and this time he was on his knees and singing right to her. She felt her face turning red and thought about how this was the first time she had blushed since she was a little girl. She began chuckling and continued to enjoy the song and this unusual boy’s antics, and drifted off to sleep thinking of the fun she had had that afternoon.
The next time he came back Tom had found himself looking forward to seeing Francesca again, and had even practiced a couple of new songs for the occasion. The nurse had told him it was the first time she had seen Francesca truly smile since she had come to the home, and for the first time in a while he also felt the power of making a real human connection. When he got to her floor he saw her sitting and watching the door, and when her face lit up when she saw him it was now his turn to blush. He began his song, and this time when he got to “Let me call you sweetheart” he offered her his hand to begin dancing with him. She looked up at him and decided that she did indeed want to dance with this man. She placed her hands around his neck and they began dancing to the song, both enjoying the pleasure of the other’s company. When it ended, she became startled to realize she couldn’t remember the last time she had danced, but also proud of herself for giving it a try. Could she be changing, she wondered? At this late age? It was hard for her to think about though and again she nodded off, exhausted from the day’s activities and emotions.
Tom and Francesca continued their weekly dancing sessions, and the nurses had noticed a significant change in Francesca since these visits had begun. It was as if she was trying on a personality radically different than the one she had lived with most of her life, and despite her dementia and agitation, it was obvious she still had the ability to experience joy in her life. The nurse found herself wondering about the restorative power of love and how long it had been since someone had danced with her, but then dismissing these silly thoughts and returning to dispensing her medications.
Weeks went by, and Tom would come and sing to Francesca and, despite her health taking a turn for the worse, he continued to spend time with her although she was now no longer capable of dancing with him. The sadness would disappear from her eyes when he would come though, and, despite her responses getting considerably meeker, he knew his presence still meant a great deal to her. They had taken to watching movies together now, and, while watching an old movie featuring the song “Let me call you sweetheart,” she had slipped her hand into his and they had silently held hands for the rest of the movie. She was no longer good with her words, and taking his hand was her way of letting him know how much he meant to her. She looked up at him, and realized she had fallen in love in the 80th year of her life. She squeezed his hand and he looked over at her and smiled, two people, one at the end of life and one at the beginning, who improbably had each awakened something very powerful in the other one.

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