Within days after turning 16, I began working in the nursing home.
In that particular nursing home, the CNA’s were required to wear maroon scrubs, the nurses were required to wear white scrubs etc.
For elderly residents, this was very confusing. It was great for staff and visitors because they knew who to direct their questions too, however the residents couldn’t differentiate between the aides that were caring for them.
After my first few days on the job wearing my mom’s too small old tennis shoes, I quickly learned the value of a good fitting pair of tennis shoes. With my very first paycheck, I purchased an all black pair of Nike sneakers. They were super boring.
So, with my newly earned driver’s license and my brother’s 1987 Buick LeSabre, I ventured to WalMart (because what else do 16 year olds do) and searched for a way to spark up my plain jane sneakers.
I found a pair of pink shoelaces.
After I started wearing my new tricked out sneakers around the facility, residents started to take notice and I earned my reputation as “The girl with the pink shoelaces.” (and “the girl who sings)
One particular resident seemed to take notice, he was new to the nursing home and still had his mind with him yet. He was a very friendly guy, never married and never had kids. We’ll call him Jack.
Jack and I became fast friends. I soon “adopted” him as my grandpa. I brought my family to meet him, I planned a joint birthday party for us (our birthdays are 10 days apart), he even had to approve the guy I was dating! (he would always ask “How’s your squirt doing?” or “Are you still with that squirt?” referring to my boyfriend) I would visit him on my days off and sneak him a Hershey’s chocolate bar and a caffeine free Diet Pepsi. I came to the nursing home to get a picture with him in my prom dress every year. I met his friends and his family and knew them all by name. I learned the true meaning of friendship.
Jack lived for church every Sunday. He would tell me all about the service, who was there, who had skipped, who was baptized, and he would save me a program. He was lucky enough to have an excellent congregation who would drive him to church and back every Sunday. He always asked if I would go to church with him, I never did and to this day it is one of my biggest regrets.
When Jack was nearing the end of his life, I would stop to visit him more and more. When I moved to college I no longer worked at the facility that he lived in but I would still try to visit as often as I could. I would knock on the door and he’d say, “Is that my pink shoelaces?”without even opening his eyes.
In his final days, I was balancing 8 hour clinical days along with working on my weekends in the hospital and nursing school.
He passed away one cold February night. I was right there by his side. I came to sit with him between getting off work on first shift and heading to the nursing home to work third shift. I called his pastor in to be with us, I know he would have loved that. We prayed together and cried together. We were there when he took his last breath. I sat and waited with him until the funeral home came to get him.
A few days later, I received a call from his Pastor. She said that he requested not to have a funeral. I was devastated, I needed the closure but knowing Jack, I knew that he didn’t think anyone would come. Even though it was obvious to everyone around him what an incredible friend he was, Jack never thought too much of himself. He was privately buried in his home town.
A few months later, I received a call from his Pastor again, she wanted to dedicate a Sunday service to Jack. I was thrilled and I volunteered to lead the congregation in song, Jack’s favorite, “The old Rugged Cross.”
I arrived to the church service with Craig, we found a seat towards the middle of the congregation. It’s always awkward going to a new church, I always feel like I’m sitting in someone’s pew. It was obvious that we were newcomers, at least 15 families introduced themselves to us by the first hymn. I told them we were just visiting.
As the church service began, the pastor who I had met as Jack was passing, said that we had a very important guest in the congregation. I looked around trying to see who it was when she said, “Our dear friend Jack spoke very highly of her and she agreed to join us in honor of his memory. Some of you might know her as pink shoelaces.”
I had no idea Jack talked to the other members of his congregation about me. The congregation all nodded in agreement and smiled at me. I began crying. I had no idea how much I had meant to Jack until now. I was a blubbering mess the entire service yet I proudly led the congregation in song. I felt such a wave of relief and happiness and sadness all at once, it was hard to comprehend. I’m still crying as I write about it.
The congregation met for coffee after the service where we all spoke about our fond memories with Jack, and one of the ladies presented me with some flowers that were used as centerpieces to take home.
I had known this room of people for less than an hour and they were already treating me like family. No wonder Jack loved it here so much.
So, in honor of a very dear friend of mine who is no longer with us today, I dedicate this blog.
I also dedicate this blog to the nurses and CNA’s who proudly bear their pink shoelaces every day, by going above and beyond the extra mile for their patients and residents.