Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The best therapy

In my mind I always called this gentleman 'Franklin'. AKA Frank.

I met him through my then dog, Ben. Ben was a certified therapy dog, and he was approved to work at nursing homes. On Saturdays, we visited the Eastern Star retirement home/nursing home center. Ben took his job very seriously - and I did, too.

Ben being serious.

Franklin showed up as a patient one Saturday in the rehab section of Eastern Star Center.

I knocked on Franklin's door frame and announced Ben and me. Frank invited us in. He was sitting on the room's sole chair, looking silently into space. Ben paraded to Frank's side and sat beside him while I looked for a place to sit. Sometimes you just get the notion that a patient really, really needs a dog's visit. So I sat on the edge of his hospital bed and waited.

Ben immediately took to Franklin, as he did to Ben. I introduced Ben (and me) to this despairing, hurting man. Ben assumed the 'scratch my ears and chin' position, and Franklin's hand dropped to pet him. In a minute, Franklin started to talk.

He moved to the valley in 1958, just him and his wife. Her name was Jillian or Julieanne or Jilly Ann - I could never quite catch it. Frank and Jilly Ann bought a little house west of I-17 - the freeway being built and dividing the city east from west. Their house was fine - nothing fancy, nothing big, but fine for the two of them and their three dogs. They had a little over an acre for the two bigger dogs to run, while Jilly Ann's small dog stayed inside. Frank and Jilly Ann never had children of their own, but they loved youngsters none the less.

Ben slightly cocked his head  for a better chin rub.

"I worked in town," Frank said, but his favorite times were evenings and weekends at home with Jilly Ann and their dogs. Frank kept their house perfectly maintained while Jilly Ann kept it spotless and 'just home'. Jilly Ann had a baby grand piano in their parlor, and she taught piano lessons to neighbor kids.

Ben adjusted his head for his left ear to be rubbed.

"She'd love to teach in the summer, but not many kids were around then. Mostly she gave lessons after school, during the school year. She didn't much like to teach in the winter, though, as it would become dark so early and she'd worry about the youngsters being out after dark." But she'd still teach while her small dog slept curled up on the davenport.

Life went on, the years passing. The big dogs died within days of each other. Jilly Ann's small dog died the next year.  Franklin and Jilly Ann adopted two puppies, cocker spaniels. "These two were always busy and getting into something. They livened us up a bit"

Eventually, Franklin retired. "I am sure I drove Jilly Ann crazy, being home with her all day like that. I'd try to stay busy in my little workshop behind the house, but Jilly Ann always called me in the house for something or other, and I'd end up following her around for the rest of the day. And the dogs just paraded around behind us."

Ben sighed and scooted closer to Franklin's chair. The scratching to his ears and chin continued. Franklin was oblivious to everything except his memories and the deepness of Ben's eyes.

"Every fall and spring, Jilly Ann would have a garden. Vegetables in the fall. We always had broccoli and squash. And in the spring, it was flowers. Glorious flowers. You know, we had roses along the garage - big florabundas. All pink and red - just beautiful."

Franklin's story slowed down. "Well, we eventually would just plant sweatpeas every fall. By spring, we'd have the most colorful flowers growing up the side of the house. That was mostly all we planted then."

One day Jilly Ann got sick. She went to the hospital and she never came home. "It wasn't cancer - it was the brain. An aneurysm. All I wanted is that she never hurt. You know what I mean? She should never hurt."

And from then on, it was just Franklin and the two spaniels. All they had was each other. All they needed was each other... all they knew was each other. The three of them.

Ben sighed louder.

One morning, Franklin woke up in the hospital. He was told he had a stroke. He thought that was about 2 weeks ago. He was moved to this room until he could be placed someplace "long term".

My heart dropped as Franklin's tears started. Ben scooted closer and nosed Franklin's hand. "I have no idea where my spaniels are. I don't know what will happen to them. Do you think they are okay? Do you think whoever has them knows they like peanut butter on white bread - just a little piece for each at breakfast? Do you think they have their cedar beds? Their beds have their names stitched on them... And they both need to be brushed every day - Jilly Ann used to do it and then I took over when...."

"Do you think they are okay?"

Ben licked Franklin's fingers, his hand, his arm. Then Ben laid his head on Franklin's lap. I hope Ben knew good news.

Old Men
by Ogden Nash

People expect old men to die,
They do not really mourn old men.
Old men are different. People look
At them with eyes that wonder when…
People watch with unshocked eyes;
But the old men know when an old man dies.

(Ben and I were certified Pet Partners with the Delta Society)


South Valley Girl said...

Oh this is lovely - thank you. And I bet he thanks/thanked you, too.

Christina / SVG

altadenahiker said...

This is lovely, visual, beautifully told, and so damn sad.

Anonymous said...

OMG, my eyes are watering, tearing, Ok, crying! This was a beautiful story, now I better go wipe my eyes & blow my nose!

Joanne Casey said...

It brought a tear to my eye, too.

Sam said...

What a beautiful story.. Ben must have been such a comfort to this man. I know I'll do therapy work one day.. it is just so rewarding and helpful..

KB said...

Tears are running down my face. What a story. And what a storyteller you are. I hope that those spaniels were being spoiled rotten.

We were just talking about how to have dogs when we get really old, discussing that we'd need to have an ironclad plan in place for who would care for those dogs when we were both gone. But, I'd still be wondering - Do my dogs' new guardians know that they love a tablespoon of yogurt at lunchtime?

Oh my, how my heart aches for someone like Frank.

Dog Trot Farm said...

What a wonderful/sad/ touching story. Many thanks to you and Ben for the wonderful service that you both provide.I know it is not always an easy situation. I am afraid Franklin is one of many seniors who feel lost and alone in this world. Blessings to you.

Tash said...

You go girl...and Ben, most of all, Ben. What a great comfort you provide.
I bet there's not a dry eye reading this. I know both of mine just overflowed.
I came by to tell you about the FLAMMABLE sign...but I'll do that later.

FA said...

Wow! Brenda, you sure know how to touch a guy's emotions. What a powerful and poignant story...and so well written. I will be praying for Franklin and the spaniels, tonight. And I'll also remember Brenda and Ben who offer such a great service to sick patients.

Thanks for the great comments on my blog, Brenda. And thanks for returning, even when I've been so busy getting acclimated. This recent post of yours reminds me how much I like your blog. I'll spend some time catching up with your past posts. God bless.

fran said...

Beautiful story! Now, I wonder what happened to those two cocker spaniels.

Gus, Louie and Callie said...

Oh what a great story. You must have made Franks day.. we are so proud of you and Ben..

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus, Louie and Calllie

BANJO52 said...

Good for you for just doing that work. But clearly you also were really listening to Frank, which makes your service even more rare.

This might be my favorite of all your stories, though it's certainly not an upper.

By the way, that's the first Ogden Nash I've ever responded to. I didn't know he wrote anything that wasn't flippant.