I once wrote a poem, the last stanza of which reads:
Precious older ones
Who, like old trees
Still bearing fruit,
Have gifts to give
But no one to give them to.
I was reminded of this poem as, every Sunday for five years, my four sons and I visited my father at the nursing home where he lived. Each time, as we walked through the halls, the elderly extended their trembling hands to us.
As we visited with my father, our love gradually grew to include Thelma and Millie, two women who shared a room across the hall. I held Millie’s hands as she told me about life long ago in the valley where we lived. I always left her room counting my blessings.
In the lounge, I watched old women with twisted fingers create fine stitchery. Anna, a Swiss woman, could transform an ordinary white handkerchief into a work of art. Then there was Isabell, a timeworn mother, instinctively clutching a rag doll. She limped down the hall, cradling her prized possession in her arms.
I didn’t realize how precious these older ones were until my father died. As I tearfully placed his books and clothing in boxes, I felt a hand on my shoulder. Isabell gently placed her rag doll in my hands. “Baby, baby,” she whispered. “You keep.” She had given me her only valued possession as balm for my aching heart, to soothe and comfort me.
Moments later, Anna arrived with a small box. “Here—use this at the funeral,” she said. She kissed my cheek. I opened the box and unfolded the tissue paper. A beautiful white handkerchief bore three rows of tatting around the edges.
Overwhelmed by these gifts of love, I stepped into the hall and gave into mourning. Then I saw the half-open door of Thelma and Millie’s room. I walked across the hall and peeked inside. They were both sitting in their wheelchairs, facing the door. When they saw me, they acted as if they were expecting me. With arms extended, they wrapped their unconditional love around me. Millie’s frail arms circled me while Thelma stroked my hair.
On that day, I realized that the sweetest fruits of all from these precious women were their gifts of love. Old trees still bear fruit.