I don’t know if the story/parable below is true or not, but I think it could be. I’ve written it based on a comment someone shared in a caregivers’ group on Facebook. One thing is sure, the lesson it contains is powerful, practical and hopeful.
Harry, who lived with Alzheimer disease, was moved into a large nursing home somewhere in the world because his family couldn’t take care of him anymore. Every Saturday, a young woman would come to visit. She always brought delicious ice cream for Harry and her to share. Harry loved ice cream. He loved the feel of the cool creaminess in his mouth, and he enjoyed tasting the different flavours: raspberry, vanilla, chocolate, and maple, which was his favourite.
He and the young woman savoured their bowls of ice cream together, and chatted about things Harry didn’t remember after she left. But each week his face lit up like a Christmas tree when she walked into his room. He was glad to see her because he often felt lonely. Even though there seemed to be lots of people around, none of them sat and talked to Harry like the young woman who brought the ice cream did. No one seemed to pay much attention to him but her.
These Saturday visits went on for several months. Then, at the end of their visit on the last Saturday in July, Harry said something to the young woman that made her terribly sad.
“My daughter never comes to visit,” Harry said. His eyes got watery, his chin started to quiver, and his voice cracked. “I think she’s forgotten me. She mustn’t care if I live or die. I wish she would come to see me like you do.”
The young woman was devastated by Harry’s words. Her heart broke in two on the spot. She had to do something to help Harry feel better.
The next week, when she came to visit, bringing ice cream as usual, she also brought an envelope, which she surreptitiously placed on Harry’s bedside table when she came in. After they’d had their treat, the young woman drew Harry’s attention to the envelope.
“It looks like you got a letter Harry,” she said. “I wonder who it’s from?”
“I don’t know,” Harry said.
“Shall we take a look?” the young woman asked.
Harry nodded. The young woman fetched the envelope from the side table. “It says ‘Dad’ on the front.” She handed the envelope to Harry, who took if from her with a slight frown on his face. “Open it,” said the young woman. “Let’s see what it says.”
Harry pulled a handwritten note from the envelope and read it to himself. A smile spread across his face.
“What does it say?” asked the young woman.
“It says ‘Hi Dad, I dropped in to see you today, but you were out. You must have been at the barbershop with Joe and Charlie when I came by. But don’t worry, I’ll come again next week, and I’ll bring some ice cream to share. See you then, Love Katherine.’”
Harry was beaming. “Katherine’s my daughter,” he said to the young woman. “She came to see me today, but I must’ve been out. She says she’s coming back next week. She’s going to bring ice cream. She’s loved ice cream since she was a little girl.”
“Oh Harry, that’s great news,” said the young woman, “I’m sure your daughter loves you very much, and she’ll be here just as she promised.”
It went on like this every week for several months. Anytime Harry felt sad that his daughter never came to visit, the young woman would draw his attention to an envelope somewhere in the room. The notes were slightly different each time: perhaps Harry was in the bathroom, or the garden, or at the dentist, or wherever when Katherine had come by. But the promise was always the same: next week, his daughter would be back, and she would bring ice cream.
Meanwhile, the young woman and Harry enjoyed many Saturday afternoons together talking about his childhood, the weather, and the birds in the feeder by the window. Sometimes the young woman read to Harry. Sometimes he told her war stories. They joked and laughed about nothing. Then, one Saturday in December, Harry’s face lit up like a Christmas tree just as it always did when the young woman walked into the room. But this time, it was different.
“Katherine!” Harry exclaimed. “I’m so glad to see you.”
“Hi Dad,” the young woman said as she gave him a big hug. “I’m happy to see you too. I brought you some ice cream. Maple, your favourite.” They spent a wonderful afternoon laughing, listening to music, singing and just being together. Harry told Katherine about the young woman who sometimes came to visit, and who also brought ice cream.
“She’s very nice,” Harry said earnestly. “But not as nice as you Katherine. You’re my daughter. No one can take your place.” Katherine reached out for Harry’s hand, squeezed it gently, and looked into his eyes. “I love you, Dad,” she said.
“I love you too sweetie,” Harry replied. “Always remember that. No matter what.”
I visited with my mom virtually every day for the last four years of her life, and I was with her when she died. Sometimes she recognized me, sometime she didn’t. But it didn’t matter. What mattered was that we got to spend time together, and we created moments of joy almost every day. Just like Harry and Katherine.
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