As usual, he is sitting in the lobby when I arrive, waiting. Most of his day is spent waiting – waiting for meals, waiting for someone to talk to him, waiting for me to arrive. I know he waits even on the days when I have told him I will not be there. When he sees me, he smiles that broad smile that made me fall in love with him and my heart breaks.

He was always a small man, but he is even smaller now as if he is wasting away from the waiting. Always dressed impeccably, his clothes now are too big for his frail body, and are sometimes stained with food that he was unable to see falling from his fork. His hair is always combed neatly though, as if his fingers knew their way with the hairbrush after so many years.

If he is feeling good, he will tell me about the band that played and how he danced with some of the other residents or staff. He can barely get out of his wheelchair now, but when the music plays his feet remember how it used to be and obey him for a short time. Until a few years ago, he could dance all night. Now he can only manage a few steps, but it is enough to make him happy.

Sometimes he is angry, over something he believes I said or did, whether or not it is fact or imagined. Then his face seems to be set in stone; stern, unforgiving. He will rant on and on, using cruel and unfamiliar words until he sees the tears in my eyes and then he will stop, confused about what might have made me unhappy. I know he is not angry with me, but with what has become of him, confined to a wheelchair, unable to see or hear, waiting.

Sometimes he is confused, imagining me to be his mother, his sister or the daughter he never had. He asks again and again when we are going home, what day it is, and what time. He looks at me as if he was listening closely, but he doesn’t remember that he had a wife, a son, a job and a life.

Sometimes he is hopeful, talking about the new job he will be getting soon, how he will have money then and we can travel as we once did and be happy. He looks forward to his birthday, when he will be 102. Actually he is only 94 – only.

And sometimes he sings, not the old songs or the new. These are his songs – ones he makes up as he goes along to almost tuneless melodies. The words may not make sense, but the lines always rhyme. He will sing them to anyone he sees – residents, staff, children in restaurants. He sings them with that wonderful smile on his face and makes everyone he sings to feel that they are special. That is what I try to remember always – that sometimes he sings.

Joan Smith


  • I am an older woman who had a 20 year relationship with a man who recently passed away, at the age of 94. I was his caregiver and conservator. About 3 years ago, I had breast cancer and returned to writing at that time. Currently, I am employed full time and publish a newsletter for my employer which is unrelated to caregiving.