For more than four years, I spent hour after hour going through loose photos with a dear friend whom I'll call Anne, who was well into her 90s. At first, 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 by that time. But that Christmas, I gave her a pink pigskin photo album and we started going through her collection very seriously, selecting the best in order to build a photographic life story for her beloved daughter.
Within a year, we had filled three photo albums. Our project seemed to be finished. But then it occurred to us that we could create a much more dazzling product if we had more room to work with. And so we began learning a new art together: building formal scrapbooks for her collection, complete with wonderful papers, silk flowers, stickers, ribbons and multi-colored jewels. Anne was the designer; I was production assistant. Before she passed away in 2017, we had completed two big, beautiful books filled with her memories. And if I do say so myself, they are pretty spectacular.
Anne seemed to enjoy our sessions; she smiled and laughed a lot as we went through the photos, just as she did throughout her life. In all that time, I found only one snapshot of her looking sad -- probably because, like my own mom, Anne was a woman whose life was 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 led a very happy life, and remembering the specifics helped her to count every last blessing once again.
But I suspect that I was the recipient of the greatest blessings from the time we spent together. Anne was easily old enough to be my mother, and her daughter is my age, so examining her photos was like peering back at my own family's history, and my own deleriously happy childhood. I was especially crazy about those shot from 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 wasn't the first of my nursing-home friends to take me on a photographic tour of a life well-lived, and I hope she won't be the last. But I have to say that our time together was one of the highlights of my almost 20-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!