Sylvie is one of my favorite people in the world, and when she disappeared from the Mansion a few weeks ago and went to a nursing home, I was prepared for her to never return.
Most of the time, when people go to nursing homes, they don’t return, and as a volunteer, I am not authorized to know anything about their medical conditions, and I don’t ask.
In assisted care facilities, government Hippa (privacy) rules are often used to keep the elderly voiceless, a major reason they are often forgotten and invisible to the outside world. I think we have proven the folly of thinking that privacy – something not especially important to them – trumps voice and recognition.
I visited Sylvie twice in her nursing home in Argyle, N.Y., she was unable to walk either time. The physical therapists were optimistic about a recovery – they are, by nature, optimistic – but I doubted she would return.
This morning, when I showed up in the dining room to teach my weekly meditation class, Sylvie was sitting waiting for me as she usually does.
“Hey, Sylvie!” I shouted, delighted and relieved. “Jon,” she said without preamble, “I need envelopes and stamps.”
When I visited Sylvie in the nursing home, she asked me to go into her room and look for stamps and envelopes. I’ve given her enough of both to keep an army busy writing letters.
I asked her this morning if I could look again, and she said yes. I went into her room with an aide and she opened a dresser drawer. There were a lot of stamps and envelopes. I gave some to Sylvie and took the rest home. I’ll parcel them out to her as she needs them.
I rarely go to nursing homes to see former Mansion patients. I keep my work focused, I don’t want to burn out, a great danger to this work.
The hardest thing about my volunteer work in the Mansion is that people I come to know and love vanish suddenly, and without warning or explanation. Most don’t come back, ever. The life span in nursing homes is not long, they are very different from assisted care. At the Mansion, people who can get themselves around seem to live a very long time, the place is like that.
I was very happy to see Sylvie. “I missed you, Jon, the physical therapists were very good to me. I need some file folders for my work..”
Okay, Sylvie, I said, I’ll get you some. “Glad you are back, ” I said, “I hope you behaved yourself.” Sylvie didn’t skip a beat, she winked at me and smiled.
She loves letters, and has plenty of stamps and envelopes. You can write to her at the Mansion: Sylvie, c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.