It was a typical Sunday afternoon. Henry sat in the hallway just outside of his room and watched as people came and went. Some stayed only a few minutes, some for a couple of hours but the point was, they took time out of their day to pay a visit to someone they loved.
But Henry sat alone. As the big black and white clock ticked away the hours, he waited. Maybe today would be the day. He kept a sharp eye on the main entrance, with a glimmer of hope that his Rick or Sharon would walk through the door. But Henry knew deep down that wasn't likely. And at six o'clock, he would wheel himself back into his room, close the door and click on the television to watch the news. He would turn up the volume, trying to block out the ache in his heart.
As Henry sat in the hallway, he replayed scenes in his mind from years ago, like black and white movies from the past.
"Dad! Wanna play catch?" Rick was asking, eagerness in his eyes.
"Later, son. I have to finish this first." But later it was time for bed, or time to eat dinner, or time to relax in front of the television. How many times had Rick asked him to play catch? Too many to count. But Henry couldn't remember even once playing catch with his son. And pretty soon, Rick had stopped asking altogether.
Henry brushed a tear from his eye as another scene sprouted, invading his memory.
"Hi daddy. Will you come to my tea party?" Sharon asked, her big blue eyes looking up at her father expectantly. Most daddies would have been unable to say no. But Henry was not most other daddies. Back then, saying, "no," came as easily to Henry as brushing his teeth.
"Not now, Sharon. I have to work."
"Why do you always have to work?" His daughter asked quietly.
"Because we have bills to pay, that's why. Go ask your mother to come to your party."
Another tear trickled down Henry's cheek as other visions of moments past danced, uninvited, through his mind. So many missed opportunities simply because he had been too focused on himself and didn't take the time to invest in what was truly important. He realized how little he really knew about his kids.
Rick did come to visit once. Henry had been surprised to see him and asked his son to sit down and talk to him for a while. But Rick had only come to see if his dad could spare him a couple hundred bucks. Of course, Henry had given it to him, hoping this would prompt Rick to come back to visit him again. But that was months ago. He hadn't heard from him since.
Sharon had never come, not even when he had first come to this place. After Katherine died, Henry started developing health problems. When he made arrangements to move into a home with assisted-living, he tried to convince himself that it was because of his ailing health. But deep down Henry knew he was here simply because he didn't want to be alone. Yet, even with all these people milling about - nurses and residents and visitors - Henry was more alone than ever.
Henry's thoughts were interrupted as Millie, the woman who lived in the room next to his, said goodbye to her family. After they were gone, Millie asked as she did every Sunday, "Where are your kids Henry? Did they come today?"
Henry shook his head. "No, they're pretty busy. Got better things to do than visit their old man." He tried acting like he didn't care but his voice was gravely and thick with emotion.
And Millie said, as she did every time, "I'm sure they'll come by next week."
Henry nodded and turned away. He glanced up to check the time. Six o'clock.
Slowly, he turned himself around, wheeled himself into his room and closed the door. If only he could turn back that clock about thirty years. The scenes he had reenacted earlier would play out differently. He would have stopped everything he was doing to play catch with his son. He would have swooped up his daughter in his arms and told her he would love to come to her tea party.
Back then, he only thought of himself and everything he had to do. Time wasn't something he was willing to give. But he was willing now! Too bad now was a little too late. Henry wasn't there for his kids when they were little. Did he really expect them to be here for him now?
Next Sunday he would wheel himself back out into the hall and wait again. He had all the time in the world.
Henry brushed another tear away and turned up the volume on the T.V.
What a wrenching, but true-to-life, story. You caught the essence of the problem toward the end. "He thought only of himself and everything he had to do..." See, don't we think it is the "things we have to do" that keep us from focusing on relationships...when really it is our own self-focus as well? Aren't we really thinking of ourselves when we're thinking of our jobs/responsibilities/goals? Wow, this story said to me that the Lord doesn't ask us to "do things" that will screw up our priorities. We do it ourselves.
As always, I love your stories. I just commented on another article and I'll tell you what I told them. If I was a paying magazine, I would hire you and print this in a heartbeat. I truly would. After reading this, I had to put a sweater on, to cover the goosebumps on my goosebumps. Excellent job.
I liked your story. It touched me in a special way. I have had a nursing home ministry for almost 17 years, and the Henry you describe could very well be some of the ones in the nursing home I go to. Very emotional, and well written. Too often, families do forget about the ones like Henry. Be blessed.
Look here girl…you are always making me cry. I pictured myself in Henry’s place. I could relate to some of the mistakes Henry made. I pray it is not too late for me to build a stronger relationship with my children. True, we can never take back the past, but we can claim the present and seize the moment. Love you sweet lady. Tell your husband to hug you real tight for Trish and I.
Even though I read this before, it saddens me again. This is a very real scenario for many left behind the four walls of a nursing home. How sad that forgiveness doesn't come easy for many; how sad our human nature often puts us in these circumstances to begin with. Wonderful writing. Jo :)