by J.L. O'Dell
A story about a man living in a care facility.
The old man sat still and silent in his wheelchair which the Nursing Assistant parked him in front of the large dining room window. It was a hot August day and the sun’s rays penetrated the glass with fingers of fire. His back was to the window so he could not look out. Perhaps the Nursing Assistant did not feel that it was important for the old man to look out and see the trees and grass, the birds flying by. It was not important for him to feel the warmth of the sun on his face instead of the fire on his back. Locking the wheel chair brakes added further insult to injury. He could not move from the heat of the sun if he were able too, which he wasn’t. His tired old muscles were atrophied and nearly useless. He was held captive by a wheelchair and an uncaring staff.
He was dressed in a blue/gray flannel shirt, green pants, socks but no shoes. His hair was matted, and he looked as if he had not had a shave in days. The gray stubble was shadowing his face. The sun beat down on him, causing the old gentlemen to sweat. Caregivers and staff hurried by him as they went about their business. Some were busy helping other residents, but more were busy chatting among themselves to notice he was sweating, or that his lips were dry.
So, he sat there. Most of the young staff considered him an old man and a bother. No one, of course, would say that out loud, unless they were out of the building and among their own friends or co-workers. To them he was just a tired, old man. He had no family. His wife was barren, and they decided not to adopt. She died years before, leaving him to fend for himself until Alzheimers and feebleness took over. At that point, the state intervened and placed him in care.
No one cared to look at the man. At 100 years old, no one saw beyond the man sitting in his wheelchair. To them he was a shadow of a man. If they looked closer, really looked, they would have seen the shadow on the wall behind him. The shadow of a good son, a faithful husband and provider. The shadow of a fierce warrior who fought in World War I and survived the horrors of trench warfare. Then returned home to suffer through the Great Depression. The shadow of a man who once again answered the call of his country and fought in the Pacific after Pearl Harbor. A man who was wounded, captured and spent years as a prisoner of war before being freed by his fellow Marines. And a man who buried his wife and grieved alone.
But to the staff, he was just old and a waste of their time. If any had bothered, they would have discovered he was still verbal and would have shared his stories during moments of clarity. So, don’t look at the shadow of the man before you. Instead look at the shadow following him and meet the real man.
After dinner he was put to bed. He laid there alone with only his shadow for company. Later that night his wife appeared to him and held his hand. The old man smiled at his wife and knew why she was at his bedside. He saw the shadow snap to attention and salute him. He lifted his right hand to return the salute. As his hand fell to the bed, the shadow dissolved and disappeared. The old man followed his shadow and his wife, smiling. He was going home.