Hanceville, Alabama—this town is a wide spot in the road. Quaint downtown. Old houses with fading paint. Crowded barbecue joint. No bars.
The rehab center and nursing home is a cinder block building with keypad locks and alarm systems. White hallways. Fluorescent lights. Smells like Lysol.
I’m here today to play piano.
Christy is a therapist here. She’s been in this line of work for thirty-one years. She helps the elderly, the affected, and the injured find their seats.
“I love older folks. Always have. These people are everything to me.”
Here at the rehab there is plenty of love.
An older man in Auburn University colors arrives in the chapel. He drives a motorized wheelchair. He shakes my hand with his left hand—his right hand doesn’t work.
He speaks. His words are not clear. But his smile talks for him.
A woman rolls her chair behind him. She is not old. She is a middle-aged, blonde, blue eyes. Her hands don’t work well, but her mind is a razor.
She asks me to play “I’ll Fly Away.”
I play. She cries.
“My best friend,” she says. “He died last week. They’re laying him in the ground today at two. I can’t go to the funeral.”
She is grieving him hard today.
Another man introduces himself. An old man. His eyes become puddles when he stares at me.
“Oh my God,” he says. “I coulda swore you was my son. You look just like my boy.”
We shake hands. He has a firm grip.
Another woman arrives, riding in a reclining chair. A lady in scrubs positions her near the piano.
“I’m eighty-six,” she says. “Born in thirty-one, went through the Depression.”
We talk. I learn that she’s endured more than a Depression. She endured it all.
Her father was murdered when she was twelve. Her sickly brother was bedridden. As a child she was a caregiver. A breadwinner. A hero.
She is nothing but mortar and brick behind those silver curls.
“I’m eighty-six,” she reminds me. “Born in thirty-one. I love Hank Williams.”
So, I play Hank for her. Her face loses sixty years.
Then, I play a few hymns.
A white-haired woman stands beside me. She is pure spirit, wearing Velcro shoes and a railroad-engineer’s cap. Don’t let her age fool you. Her mind is faster than a caffeinated calculus major.
She sings every word to “Amazing Grace.” All fifty-three verses. Her voice is shaky.
“When we’ve been there, ten thousand years…” she sings. “Bright shining as the sun…”
Her eyes are looking at mine. She’s singing with all she’s got. And I’m in another era for a moment.
Another woman approaches. She says, “Maybe you can come visit me sometime. I’m a REALLY good friend.”
It’s enough to break your heart.
The music is finished, the middle-aged blonde woman steers toward me. She holds my hand in her weak one.
“Can we get our picture made together?” she says. “I don’t wanna forget you.”
“No way,” I explain. “I’ll look hideous standing so close to someone as pretty as you.”
We get our picture taken. I am holding her beneath my right arm. She is warm. And beautiful. How could anyone forget this woman?
“I love you,” she says.
Well, I don’t know if she means it. Maybe she just needs to tell somebody. Maybe it’s been a long time since she’s said those particular words.
Either way, it doesn’t matter to me. I liked hearing her say them.
Almost as much as I enjoyed saying them back to her.
Sandi in FL - February 4, 2018 10:16 am
People not only want to feel loved, but we all need to hear those three important words as a frequent reminder that someone truly cares.
Mary - February 4, 2018 10:47 am
Oh, my! Love this. You are such a good msn!!!
Howard Humphreys - February 4, 2018 11:33 am
Older people have a lot to share as you told wonderfully in your story.
Susan Hammett Poole - February 4, 2018 12:07 pm
Oh, Sean — you dear man — I am so glad you returned the sentiment in response to that precious lady saying, “I love you.” We all need to be told we are loved…makes our hearts grow lighter and even stronger, I believe. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.
Cathi - February 4, 2018 12:11 pm
Shaun, thanks for the weepy glees this morning! Have a great Sunday.
Ava McCurley - February 5, 2018 4:21 am
I love the phrase “weepy glees
janiesjottings - February 4, 2018 12:39 pm
This story sure makes me want to see my grandparents but they’re gone and I sure miss them. Thank you for the reminder of people who helped form me. Loved it!
LeAnne - February 4, 2018 1:33 pm
Oh my goodness. Bless you, Sean, for brightening these people’s lives. For talking to them, listening to them, just being with them. And for taking them back to their younger days with your gift of music and then sharing it all with us with your gift of writing. I really, really enjoy your stories. Thank you.
Jan - February 4, 2018 1:43 pm
God bless you, Sean!
Nix LaVerdi - February 4, 2018 1:45 pm
Your stories, and the way you write them, get me each time. You are a gift to the world, and I can see you feel that way for the folks you come across. Beautiful, Sean. Thank you so much!
Melanie Tighe - February 4, 2018 2:09 pm
This broke my heart. My mom spent a year in Ozark nursing home. She died there last October. Her only other child, my brother, refused to visit her for 30 years. She died never seeing him one last time. She never stopped loving him and never said an unkind word about him. He didn’t come to the funeral. Thank the heavens for all those who care for those who are unable to care for themselves. And who comfort them when no one else is there for them. Thank you Sean. ❤️
Leann Waldrep - February 4, 2018 3:09 pm
Beautifully written, thank you for caring and sharing.
Catherine Hawes - February 4, 2018 3:13 pm
Visitors like Sean, loving familes, who have usually been caregivers for years before the nursing home, and the CNAs, who provide daily care and love — they are the best. We are all scared of being in a nursing home, but I have seen incredible acts of love there and great courage and dignity among the residents. But we need to demand that Congress and state legislatures to provide enough funding to hire enough staff so they can give hugs and loving pats, not just body care.
Connie - February 4, 2018 3:33 pm
Your capacity for love astounds me sometimes. There are so many people in nursing homes that are forgotten, and it is heartbreaking. Bless you for taking the time to talk to people and let them know someone cares.
Kathie Garnett - February 4, 2018 3:38 pm
I hope you realize how much joy you bring to people. God bless you.
Lynnis - February 4, 2018 4:01 pm
You are a blessed man, Sean Dietrich. Your writing blesses us all each and every day. <3
lindadonz - February 4, 2018 4:43 pm
I get your column by email and on Facebook. I read them everyday. Your writing and stories never fail to touch my heart. They are like spending time with Jesus; you know what really matters in life. Thank you
Jack Quanstrum - February 4, 2018 5:25 pm
Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful!
Jack Darnell - February 4, 2018 7:10 pm
Shucks , musicians are heroes, makes me wish I hadn’t squandered the two fifty cent lessons mama paid for.
Good entry, great places to love folk.
Roxanne - February 4, 2018 7:55 pm
I sang “Count Your Many Blessings” at a worship service in a home just like that this morning. I was on one side of my mother-in-law and my husband was on the other. She had on 5 shirts and two pairs of socks for shoes. Her brilliant mind can no longer communicate the way it used to. She strings together words that make no sense. But she knows every word of every hymn we sing by heart. Music is a blessing. And so are you.
Pamela McEachern - February 4, 2018 9:26 pm
Your acts of kindness and compassion are so meaningful to people that have so little or only remember earlier times. You make us all feel important. God Bless you Sean and Jamie. She is the grease behind your wheel and you give her the credit, just shows me how deeply you love.
Peace and Love from Birmingham
Suzanne Cox - February 5, 2018 12:00 am
Barbara Schweck - February 5, 2018 1:42 am
Sean, You are such a good man with such a great heart!!
Steven P Bailey - February 5, 2018 10:51 am
Dianne - February 5, 2018 12:44 pm
Thanks for sharing this, Sean. I have always loved old people, and I suppose it’s because I had a close relationship with both sets of my grandparents into my adulthood with my own children. I even worked in an assisted living/memory care facility for awhile and loved and loved on those people, even though I was approaching 70 at the time I was there. Older people are a treasure, and often forgotten by their own families. Like you, Sean, I love older people and the joy they can bring into your life.
Jody - February 5, 2018 10:14 pm
Being the hands and feet of our Lord. And to that you add your voice?
Marion Pitts - February 19, 2018 3:00 am
Dear Sean, I hope someone like you comes to visit whatever home I’m in when I get old. I’m just newly 71 now. ?
Katy - May 31, 2018 7:57 pm
Sean, you are a dear, sweet man. Anyone would be blessed to meet you and I am sure she meant the words. I’m sure love spills off you. Thank you for all you do for those who’s lives you touch. Maybe I will be fortunate enough to meet you one day. Blessing to you ~
Christy Gamble - August 3, 2018 6:09 pm
Sean, I loved this story. If you come back to Hanceville, stop by the Hanceville Drug store and I will buy you an old fashioned Cheery Coke at the soda fountain.
Christy Gamble - August 3, 2018 6:11 pm
That is supposed to be Cherry Coke. Not Cheery.
Martha Black - August 3, 2019 6:58 am
Oh well, A Cherry Coke makes me feel Cheery! That counts sweetie……
Martha Black - August 3, 2019 7:04 am
Dear Sean, I love you too!
As Merle Haggard & my husband used to sing to me:
“That’s the way love goes babe.
It’s the music God makes
For the whole wide world to sing
It only grows & gro, woe woe woes
Yet you run with me chasing our rainbows
Don’t you know I love you too
And that’s the way love goes”