First November Visit

For the first time, I was going to see my buddy, Nancy*, this semester. For me, I was pretty busy traveling in and out of town these last few days. So, I missed the first week of visiting buddies. Specifically, I needed a TB shot along with records of immunizations I had already provided. My TB shot from a year ago would not suffice, for understandable reasons. So, I went to the Harvard University Health Services to obtain my TB shot, have it analyzed, and receive proper documentation.

Walking into Hebrew Senior Life felt both familiar and unfamiliar. There was so much of it that I remembered: set of tables right before I turned into the long hallway, walking past the wall of figurines in their glass cases, and aquarium appearing before me as the elevator doors slid open. Yet, I will admit that it took me a second to recall what floor Nancy was on. Similarly, I hesitated upon entering the floor she was in. I will also wholeheartedly admit that I was beyond happy to see Nancy sitting on one of the armchairs right as I stepped foot off the elevator.

Seeing me, her face broke into a smile. It was clear that she remembered who I was as she warmly greeted me and asked me to pull up a chair next to her, which I promptly did. Later, she told me that her niece had mentioned that I would be coming to see her--this made sense since I had been in communications with her regarding my visit to see Nancy. As we talked, I clasped her hand.

When I told her that I was applying to medical school, she immediately asked me where I would be next year. Upon hearing that I was uncertain, she relayed that she hoped that I would be close enough to visit her. For me, I felt that it was my first time with the sudden realization of what distance would mean as the likelihood of leaving Harvard loomed over me.

I was so excited to start doing the things that I was passionate about; had become accustomed to being so far away from home; and knew that technology would ensure that I kept in touch with my friends. Yet, the time I spent with Nancy was more than any of that. My time with her was defined by the physical time I was there--being present in all senses. That is what made our relationship strong and solid. In these musing, I cannot help but think of the first time I met her, and her resistance to us being buddies. Now, well, we’ve come a long way. No longer did she tell me to leave the room due to her fatigue. Her face crinkled into a smile upon seeing me. And, sure, I wasn’t here over the summer. But, despite that, I had become a presence in her life that she enjoyed. This idea went both ways, as all healthy relationships do. This conversation, upon reflection, truly encapsulates the mission of ALzheimer’s Buddies matters to me and the idea of being present.

As Nancy and I continued talking, we naturally discussed what I had been doing this summer. Thus, I took out my cell phone and we skimmed through some of my adventures. I took more pictures than I thought I did. So, we only got through my time in Vietnam and Japan (where I had a brief layover). We talked a lot about what I was doing there, my love for teaching students, and the beauty I found in a foreign country.

Sometime during our conversation, she asked me, apologetically, what my name was. I smiled and told her. She explained that she sort of did remember but at the same time couldn’t. While I wish that she did recall my name, I also understood that above all, she remembered who I was as a person--which was more than enough.

As I stood up to leave, we gave each other a hug and kiss. It’s been a entire summer, but that much as stayed the same to my delight.

Leaving Hebrew Senior Life, all the morning volunteers did our reflections in the van: rose, bud, and thorn. The rose is something positive that happened during the visit; the bud was something we were looking forward to next week; the thorn was something that wasn’t ideal.

For me, the rose was that Nancy remembered who I was. The bud was sharing more photos from my summer with her. The thorn was the fact that I realize that I’m a senior, will be graduating soon, and the implications of that fact. Even as we wrapped up our exercise, I knew that the process of reflection wouldn’t end there.

* Name changed for privacy

-Ellen Zhang