I knew it might happen at some point. I just didn’t know when. And what, exactly, I expected, I’m not sure. But this wasn’t it. I’ve been at my job, the same job, for 22 years, working in a relatively small community. I work with the frail elderly and their families. And having been there so long, I knew the day would come when I would start seeing the children of former patients find their way into my care. It’s happened a few times in the last few years. Faces from the past, on slightly different bodies, ambling down the hall in the echoes of familiar step. So far those few meetings have been homecomings of a sort. Whispers of the past making their way into new stories. And no one is at all surprised that I’ve kept their mother’s photo on my bulletin board of beloveds all these years.
So this time the surprise wasn’t in seeing her. Only the barest traces of her mother, but still I recognized her. Remembering Esta’s name was easy. Her daughter’s name, not surprising, nowhere in the recesses of my mind. It was actually in the context of my second job, helping a colleague with an activity, so I wasn’t leading a religious service or otherwise in my exact work role. But we were in the building where my full-time job is, where Esta lived the last years of her life. I approached her daughter and said, “I remember your mom. She was here.” She turned, face alight, expectantly, “Yes! Yes she was.” Her smile faded as she squinted to look at me and I watched her own mind draw a blank. She asked, “You knew her?” I said, “Oh yes, who could forget Esta?! She was quite a dancer. And her smile was radiant. She was stunning that woman.” Her daughter’s face softened, a faraway look in her eyes as she, too, recalled the elegant, regal woman who was her mother. “But how did YOU know her?” she asked, back from her daydream. “I’m the chaplain.” I think I even may have said my name. Try as she might though, she couldn’t place me, couldn’t remember. “There used to be a woman here.” she said. “I remember her.” I was happy to see the hint of a smile light her face. “But I’m sorry,” she said shaking her head and looking at me, “I don’t remember you.”
There was a story my grandmother used to tell, about my mother when she was a teenager. My mother begged and begged and begged for the 45 single of the 1950’s classic, “Am I That Easy To Forget” My grandmother, ever eager to please her demanding daughter, went to the record store repeating the name of the song over and over so she wouldn’t forget it. A salesman in the store tapped her on the shoulder and asked if he could help her. She turned to face him and rather abruptly blurted out, “Am I that easy to forget!” To which the baffled man said, “I’m sorry ma’am, do I know you?”