In recent years, I spent hour after hour going through loose photos with a dear friend whom I'll call Anne. For the first few months, we just looked at them as she told me all about each of the people and places pictured -- almost all of the former long gone now that she's 96. Then I bought her a pink pigskin photo album and we went through her collection very seriously, selecting the best in order to build a photographic life story for her beloved daughter.
These days, we're learning a new art together: building formal scrapbooks for her collection, complete with wonderful papers, silk flowers, stickers, ribbons and multi-colored jewels that must certainly be real. She is the designer; I am production assistant. We've already finished Volume I, and I must say that the result is pretty spectacular. If I can figure out how to photograph some pages, I'll post them here one of these days.
Anne seems to enjoy our sessions; she smiles and laughs a lot as we go through the photos, just as she did throughout her life. So far I've found only one snapshot of her looking sad -- probably because, like my own mom, Anne is a woman whose life is perfectly described in a poem by Jan Struther ofMrs. Miniver fame. Entitled "Biography," this poem invites its readers to just say this of her life once she’s dead and gone: “‘Here lies one doubly blest.’ Say, ‘She was happy.’ Say, ‘She knew it.’”
There's no doubt that Anne has led a very happy life, and remembering the specifics helps her to count her blessings once again.
But I suspect that I'm the recipient of the greatest blessings from the time we spend togehter. Anne is easily old enough to be my mother, and her daughter is my age, so seeing her photos is like peering back at my own family's history, and my own deleriously happy childhood. I am especially crazy about those shot in the 1950s, featuring all that mid-century modern decor, all those women wearing neatly fitted dresses, stockings, heels, hats and gloves for virtually any occasion -- even lunch out with the girls.
Anne isn't the first of my nursing-home friends to take me on a photographic tour of a life well-lived, and she may not be the last. But I have to say that our time together has been one of the highlights of my almost 16-year volunteer career, and I'll be forever grateful to her.
If you visit elderly friends -- especially shut-ins -- don't pass up this wonderful opportunity to share the joys and sorrows of their lives with them. I guarantee that a great time will be had by all!
Updated from a 2/25/14 post