This afternoon at work, an older man came in needing some help, but I was with another client at the time. He was clearly frustrated that my associate suggested an appointment an hour away and that no one was available right that moment to help him. Nevertheless, he left, stooped over his footed metal cane with a white package clutched to his side. When he returned, the appointment I was with ran over 10 minutes, so that by the time I came to the lobby to collect him, he was extremely frustrated. He gave me little old man side eye, refusing to speak to me when I told him my name and how I would be happy to help him. He slowly rose to his feet, package under his arm, and asked me where he was supposed to go. I directed him to my office, gingerly walked in front and then held the door open for him.
When he sat down, he opened the package, pulled out a rather large magnifying glass and a huge manila folder filled with multiple binder clipped paperwork bunches. All the while, he didn't speak to me. When he finished, he finally looked at me, seated across from him and asked, "so, is this how it's going to be now?" Not understanding what he meant, I asked for clarification. He asked whether he needed an appointment to get any help and then ultimately that it wouldn't matter since he was now being helped 15 minutes later than was promised. I apologized for the overlap from the previous client and said that an appointment was to respect his convenience but not mandatory. But now that he was here, how could I help.
Jacob went on to explain that his wife Marie had died recently, and we had sent him a lot of paperwork. He needed to know what to do with it. Then he opened the folder and started pulling it all out. I looked through it, found the pertinent pieces and quickly realized that the bulk of the rest of it was his statements. As we slowly started to speak to each other, he told me that he was legally blind and was having difficulty figuring out what out to do with the papers - thus the magnifying glass. I discovered that all the statements, three years worth in fact, were dramatically out of date order. I asked if he would be ok if I put them all in the right order. He was taken aback and thanked me. When I finished, I labeled each with a post-it. I found some superfluous things but explained them, found something he should have signed and returned a year ago but promised to mail it for him and made a copy of the paperwork that brought him in in the first place.
When all was said and done, Jacob thanked me for all the help and apologized for his behavior when he arrived. I told him that he was going through a great deal having just lost Marie, and it was understandable. I asked how long they had been together. He said that from courting until her death last month, it was 66 years. He told me that when she took ill six years ago, he had cared for her at home until his children convinced him that she needed to be moved to an assisted living facility 2 years ago. Then a few months ago she was moved to hospice. He said up until then, Marie knew who he was and could talk to him about her day, ask about their children. He visited her every single day while her sons took turns visiting every night. Four children, nine grandchildren, two great grandchildren, he told me about all of them. The hospice grounds were lovely he said, although she never got to see them. Once she was moved there, she was on so much morphine to manage her pain, that they were no longer able to speak to each other.
When Marie died and was taken to the funeral home, Jacob told the funeral director that she didn't look anything like herself. He asked for a picture and promised Jacob that when he was done, Marie would look just as he remembered. He also promised that before her casket was opened at the viewing, Jacob would decide if he had done a good job or not. Jacob said that when the time came, Marie looked absolutely beautiful, just like when they had first met. At this point in his story, Jacob and I were both crying. I passed the tissues back and forth between the two of us. When he told me how beautiful she looked, I wish you could have seen his eyes, the smile on his face, like he wasn't with me at that moment. There are people on this planet who will never have another person look at them the way I imagine Jacob looked at Marie - the adoration, the complete look of contentment,and then the dawning realization of utter loss.
When we finished crying, he told me about their last anniversary together, the party that his children put together for them, before she went to hospice. Then he told me how sad he was for his children and grandchildren, and that the great grandchildren would never really remember her. We stood slowly together, and he thanked me for listening. I thanked him for telling me about Marie and their love story. Then he asked to kiss me goodbye, a gentle peck on the check, and I saw him out.
I hope that every single person reading this will have this kind of love in their life, that you will know this level of happiness. And I hope that the person you share your life with, this short time we have here together, looks at you the same way Jacob looked at Marie.