Grouchy friend or relative? This might soften them up

“I told her,” Barbara spat, in her thick, Polish accent. “‘You leave your underwear here? Get out of my house!’”

(If you’d like to hear me read this story to you, click HERE)

She stuck her chin out in defiance, while I pressed my lips together and tried to look concerned. This was the third time I’d heard this story today. I wasn’t even sure it was true.

It was a Wednesday afternoon, and I was volunteering at the day centre for seniors with dementia. When I’m there, I help with the mechanics, but mostly I come so I can sit and keep the clients company. The range of dementia they suffer from is pretty broad; some can barely string a sentence together. Others seem mostly to be all there – like Barbara.

But she did love to repeat stories about her family.

As well as the niece who got thrown out, we’d hear about her sister – who she’d only refer to as “The Beetch”. As in,

“The Beetch called me today. She thinks she can come and stay with me. Ha! I don’t want you here! Get a hotel!”

I am famously a wildly positive person. I have the word ‘yes’ tattooed onto my finger. My business is called Yes Yes Marsha. I usually have no truck with cynics.

But Barbara? I LOVED her.

While there were other clients who needed more attention, I sat with Barbara whenever I could. Six foot tall, with long, white hair and strong features, she had a presence that was powerful and magnetic. With her sharp tongue came a quick wit. (“Barbara, can I grab that empty cup from you?” “I don’t know, can you? Are you strrrong enough?”). When I made a cd with old-timey songs for them all, she’d sing along at the top of her voice to all the ones she knew, then say, “Shat ap, Barrrrbara”.
One afternoon, as I was bringing back the lunch plates, I saw we had cake for dessert.

“Ooh, who’s birthday?” I asked.

My boss told me, “Barbara’s.”

My eyes widened. I went over, crouched on the ground beside her chair, and looked up.

“Barbara! You didn’t tell me it was your birthday today!”

She scowled. “What does it matter? I am old. That is all we need to know.”

“Happy birthday!” I squeezed her arm. She shrugged.

I got up, found a blank piece of paper, then went to dig around in the craft cupboard.
A couple of hours later, my boss walked into the room, carrying a pile of jackets. It was time for us to take the clients home in the day centre’s bus. I grabbed Barbara’s coat, brought it over, and helped her put it on. Then I went over to the side table, where I’d been working between tasks and chats, and grabbed the card I’d made.

As with most of my cards, it was a little low-rent. A piece of paper folded in four. On the front, using my very basic skills, I’d drawn a colourful birthday cake and, above and below it, put in big letters,

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

BARBARA!

Inside, I’d written,

Have a wonderful day!
Lots of love,
xxMarsha from the day centre.

Walking over to her, I said, “Barbara, here, I made you this.”

She took it and gave me a sidelong glance, brows furrowed in suspicion. First, she read the front. Then she opened it, and read the inside, snorting out a little “Huh!” as she did.

Then she looked at me, sternly.

“You made this?”

“I did.”

“For me?”

“Yes…” I started wondering if I’d offended her by making something so last minute and flimsy.

She nodded. Looked at it again. And then burst into tears.
I was stunned. I crouched down, and took her big, doughy hand in mine.

“Barbara!”

She carried on crying and looking at the card.

“Thank you,” she said, before opening her handbag up, and putting the card inside. I squeezed her hand.

“Happy birthday, Barbara!”

Then I watched, as she got up and walked out to the bus.

 

Thanks so much for reading. This story was part of an Advent(ish) Calendar of Stories, where, every day in December, I emailed out a different short, true story.

If you know anyone else who’d enjoy this story, you can share it with them using one of the round buttons, below.

You RULE!

xx (Yes Yes) Marsha

PS want to know my best-ever client secret – and get even more advice, tips, plus stories that I won’t put on the internet? Come and join the Yes Yes Family – it’s free! Just pop your details in below:

Photo Credit: carmen zuniga Flickr via Compfight cc

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