He Smiled That Day

It didn’t happen often. Rodger was a dour man with a deeply furrowed brow and a face rutted with frown lines. The landscape of his life, mapped out on the parchment-thin skin of the elderly, was a map of negative emotions. Fear,uncertainty, frustration, disappointment and suspicion all left clearly marked passages across his countenance.

Rodger Dour

There were no laugh lines framing his mouth or crinkly fans of mirth around his eyes. A smile never came easy for him. Sometimes, when someone told a joke or shared a funny experience, I imagined one lying in wait, ready to spring out if only he’d drop his guard for a moment.

Then one day it happened and I was there to see it. For a moment in time he forgot to worry and ceased to contemplate all the things that didn’t make sense.

What brought this on, you ask?

It was nothing really.

The day started, as always, with his slow walk down the steps to the kitchen for his breakfast and morning medication. I took his vital signs and sent them off to the clinic for review via the tele-health monitor and reassured him that there was no bad news.

“Everything looks good. It’s a good day to be happy.” I smiled.

“Yeah happy,” he grumped as he turned away.

“You look good this morning,” I tried again.

“Looking is different than feeling,” he insisted.

“Do you feel bad?” I asked, concerned that I’d missed something.

“No. I’m okay. That’s it.”

That’s it, I thought. That’s all there is for him. When there is nothing to worry about his slate is wiped clean. For a moment I felt like crying. He always looked so tired and sad. Then I remembered that he was fine and it was a day to be grateful. I refused to let his funk engulf me.

“Don’t worry, be happy,” I sang loud enough to startle us both. As the off key words bounced off the walls I started to giggle and watched for some hint of joy in him. But no, he continued up the stairs and shuffled into his room for a nap.

When 11:00 am rolled around and he made his ever so punctual appearance for lunch I expected more of the same. So, as I sat across from him monitoring his intake and reminding him to swallow so as not to aspirate, I was surprised to see his lips moving.

Was he talking to himself or responding to the voices that sometimes made it through the haze of medication designed to keep them silent?

And then I heard it, so soft and low I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t my imagination. I sat very still and waited to see what would happen next. Before long he sensed that I was watching him and slowly lifted his head, seemingly surprised to find me in me in my usual place.

“What’s up?” he asked with all the disingenuous charm of a naughty three year old caught in an act of mischief.

“Are you singing?” I asked, nodding in approval.

“No, I don’t sing, he answered gruffly. “But don’t worry, be happy,” he said with a big grin. And he blushed a delicate pink as he said it.


If you’ve had a small moment of success or a breakthrough with the person for whom you are a caregiver, please share it here.

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