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Transition’s First Steps for Trevor
Trevor felt lost and angry – and disappointed in himself.
"I've got $3.84 cents," Trevor sheepishly told the fellow in a Hardee's shirt behind the counter. "What can I buy for that?"
It was 2:30 in the afternoon. Trevor’s stomach felt hollow. He needed some cholesterol to keep him going.
The fellow’s name badge read, "Ned," and it hung crooked from the pocket of his shirt, which was too big for his slender frame. He glanced awkwardly at Trevor and his walker, turned around and looked at the menu overhead. "Well, there's the three 59-cent big cheeseburger," he said in a squeaky voice. "And, that's about all … You got a debit or credit card?’"
“No. They’re in my wife’s purse, and she’s not here anymore.”
Garish menu boards always seemed confusing to Trevor. "What's a carton of white milk?”
Milk is expensive, Trevor whispered to himself.
"How about a small Coke?" he mumbled, thinking that would be cheaper.
"Just give me the cheeseburger," Trevor finally said, satisfied that it would get him through the afternoon.
"What does he want?" Trevor overheard Gert quietly ask Ned as she suddenly appeared behind the counter. She wore thick bifocals and a brown and orange cap over her gray hair.
"Cheeseburger and milk," he whispered through the side of his mouth, as though Trevor couldn't hear him or that he was unaware of what Gert had asked. "He's only got three dollars and 84 cents."
"Give it to him," she ordered in a matronly manner that, at the same time, maintained her aloofness. "I'll pick up the difference."
“To pity distress is but human; to relieve it is Godlike.” - Horace Mann
"How do I ..?" Ned, apparently new at the computer, started to ask.
"I'll take care of it later," Gert insisted as she checked the coffee pot on the back counter.
Ned slapped the pre-wrapped cheeseburger and the milk carton on a tray. Trevor gave him the $3.84 cents in change he had in the palm of his hand.
"I'll bring it out to the table for you," Gert offered. So Trevor shimmied behind his walker over to the nearest table and plopped down into the chair. This was not the right thing to do -- but so what? He was entitled to a bit of charity now that Brenda had suddenly left him.
Gert came over to Trevor’s table with his tray. "Thank you," Trevor said, trying to sound appreciative and intelligent at the same time.
"That's OK," she assured Trevor, speaking louder and more distinctly than she needed to. "You have a nice lunch now."
She probably thought she understood Trevor’s situation, but she didn't. It was all an accidental fabrication that looked real. The circumstances -- and the perceptions -- had just fallen into place, and, instead of overriding the impressions, Trevor stood by and watched them play out, partly because he really didn’t care anymore.
Anyway, it was too silly and irrational to explain to a stranger. For the first time in his life, the perception that Trevor, as an elder, didn't have the financial resources for a decent meal had become a reality.
"The easiest person to deceive is one's own self." - Edward Bulwer-Lytton, The Disowned
But financial stress was not the problem. He had left Mansfield that morning to have lunch with his son, Mike, near Columbus, OH, as a way to step out of the house for the first time on his own after Brenda, his wife of 54 years, died suddenly three weeks before.
Brenda always took care of the couple’s finances and carried the pair’s debit and credit cards in her purse. Since Trevor’s stroke four years earlier, it was always easier for her to pay whenever they bought anything. It avoided Trevor fumbling through his pocket to find his billfold.
It was sort of an unspoken agreement that he and Brenda had made after his stroke.. He would still do the driving. She would continue to manage the couple’s finances. So, that morning Trevor completely forgot that their charge cards were still in Brenda's purse – and her purse was still in their bedroom.
The issue didn’’t come up during a drab lunch of nondescript salads with Mike, who paid the tab.
So, just 40 miles down the road, Trevor was hungry and had stopped for a quick sandwich -- only to discover on his second stop of the day that he had left home that morning without Brenda’s purse and with only three dollars cash in his billfold. A quick check of the usual places for random change in the car only yielded 84 cents.
Buoyed by the confidence he had enough to buy something to drink and a hamburger, he stopped at Hardee’s and found a disability parking stall conveniently located just outside of the front door.
Coming up short for cash hadn't happened to Trevor before. He could finally see he was in a new stage in his life now that Brenda was gone.
For the moment, he amused himself in shallow victimhood and understood, perhaps for the first time, what it meant to tell himself, "I'm entitled." It was, after all, harmless, anonymous and inconsequential. He received the milk -- and energy -- he needed for the drive home. He surprised himself by accepting the handout without shame.
Except now Trevor could see that he was the center of attention for the crew in the mostly vacant restaurant. Quick glances shot in his direction over the plastic greenery and behind the gaudy counter.
Trevor left his tray at the table and went to the men's room, hoping he could quietly sneak out afterwards without the employees seeing him.
He came out of the rest room, letting his walker slide silently on the floor, trying not to draw attention. But, he met Gert, mopping the floor with wide swipes, near the entrance. Ned was cleaning off the tables.
"Thanks again," he said pleasantly, as walked stiffly toward the door as fast as he could.
“That's OK," Gert replied loudly.
His stiff gait became jerky. Ned opened the door for him, and Trevor went out with extra difficulty. It seemed like it took five minutes for him to open the back door, fold up his walker and climb into his 2017 white Lexus.
As Trevor drove out of the parking lot, Gert and Ned were still standing there, watching him -- she with the mop in her hand and he with a stack of trays.
Five years later, Trevor remembers that first time he ventured out without Brenda. He chuckles about Gert and Ned and what they may have thought the day they “got taken” by an old man with a walker, no credit card, a bunch of change in his hand – and a white Lexus.
Now he realizes they were just random players at the beginning of the grieving process he had to go through after Brenda died.
Trevor’s takeaway tip from his story: Savor grieving stories for what they reveal about living.
Here’s to elderhood and vulnerability!
Jim Hasse, ABC, GCDF retired, author of “Opening Up” newsletter
“Story-guided Discussion for Finding Peace with Age-related Limitations”
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