by Julie Niewald, Director
Jack, a charming man and resident at Episcopal Homes, celebrated 100 years of life this Labor Day, September 4. Since his 99th birthday last September, he’s been counting the days until he reaches 100. He tells all his girls not to kiss him because it would be the “Kiss of Death” and if THAT happened, he wouldn’t make it to the BIG one. His faltering voice cracks, as he gleefully teases, “Don’t kiss me now…”
His “girls” are two staff, Paa and Beverly, who are part of our home care team. They help with his daily cares, and bring him to the pool. I witness their kind, gentle, loving support first hand. They are so good to him. And, he in return, makes them laugh with his wily charm. Jack is easy to love.
Jack and I have a history of eleven years together and counting. I was his housing manager at Cornelia House for six of those years. During that time, we mourned the loss of his dear Betty, and best friend John, who passed within 36 hours of each other. I thought for sure that would be the start of his decline. The years brought continued mourning over the unfathomable loss of his granddaughter, and then his son to cancer. And yet, he continues to thrive and live his life to its fullest. Jack is the epitome of resilience.
About three and a half years ago, Jack started using the therapy pool twice a week for 1:1 time in the 95 degree water. That first year I substituted as needed until our then part-time aquatics person left her position to stay home with her children. It’s been just Jack and me ever since. We marvel at how our two paths have intertwined. Never did we imagine we would have this time in the pool together. He leans his forehead into mine, conspiring…”Don’t kiss me now.,” and laughs.
Jack is a jokester. He throws out those jokes, tossing them into the air to see if any take flight. He especially likes to greet my Friday morning swim class which wraps up when he arrives. As the class happens to be all women, he happily waves, and calls out a greeting to his ladies in waiting. The coo of female voices respond lovingly and in unison, “Hello Jack”. On Tuesdays, I don’t have a swim class, and I hear the disappointment in his voice, “Where are the mermaids today?”
At the end of our half hour session Jack loves to relax and simply float. He talks fondly of his mother, who could float, soaking up the sun for hours. I slide a noodle under his legs, and rest his head on my shoulder. He closes his eyes and drifts off. Jack is starting to drift while in conversation with me. His eyes tell me he is lost in thought and I wait patiently for his return to the “now”. His daydreams are like a movie reel that plays over his life. He finds solace in that state of mind.
Jack is a chatterbox, and great storyteller. I have to keep us both on task because I get caught up in his stories. Recently, he said something that made me laugh, and without thinking, I planted a kiss on his cheek. In that split second, we gasped in unison, realizing my grievous mistake…for I had given him the Kiss of Death! A flurry of activity quickly ensued, Jack hollered, “take it back, take it back”. I grabbed the energy from that kiss so fast and flung it into nevermore. Luckily for Jack, it simply dissipated. Whew! He was safe once more and needless to say, Jack made it to his 100th Birthday after all.
The moral of this little tale? Never give anyone the Kiss of Death! Happy 100th Birthday, Jack.