After a quick knock on the door, I walk into a living room where an older woman sits quietly in her armchair. A friend who answered the door recognized me and now leads me inside. The house is dimly lit compared to the sunshine on the bright spring day, but I take note of how the slight impressions left by my footprints interrupt neat lines made by the vacuum cleaner on the dusty rose colored carpet.
I have come to collect some folding chairs we loaned her family a few days ago as a stream of relatives and food arrived before her husband’s funeral. I left the van running in the driveway and in my mind, I am already checking this errand off the list so I can get back for another funeral and a pile of paperwork on my desk. The woman looks tired, and her eyes stare through a newscaster on the television. I greet her and gently tell her that I will go around to the garage to load up the chairs and then I will be out of her way.
Her eyes widen as she looks up to me and says, “Honey, you’re not in our way.”
Her words pierce me and the sensation feels like the pull of her loneliness.
I wish I could say I took her hand and offered her just the right words, but I didn’t. Instead, I stood frozen in front of her and left about as quickly as I had arrived. The faint smile I mustered probably did little to boost her spirits or soothe her in any way. I suppose it was possible she simply meant that I wasn’t in the way of her television watching. It was also quite possible that she was already lost in the fog of dementia and had no idea who she was talking to or that her husband had even died. There is no way to know for sure what her mental or emotional state was that day. To me, however, it felt like grief.
As I left the house, I said a simple prayer that she may not face the darkness of that night alone. I put the van in drive and turned slowly out of the neighborhood so as not to topple over the chairs I had so carefully stacked in the back.
I woke the next morning to a new day with new work to do. I had long forgotten about the lady sitting in the armchair, but she was also remembered, and I hope she felt it somehow.