"With calm conviction, and a touch of regret, she looked me in the eye and declared that everyone has a story to tell. She felt that such a significant task as preserving that knowledge should never be delayed until it is too late."
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Hospice volunteers often listen to patients and their stories. One Pathways volunteer, Christy Yuen, chronicled the story of Jeannine.
This week is volunteer appreciation week. Pathways would like to formerly applaud all of our volunteers who help our patient’s tell their stories. Thank you for giving your time and attention to other human beings when they need it the most.
Jeannine, an 89 year-old French lady, knew her days were numbered. More than anything, she wished to put her memories down on paper. I visited her three times before she suddenly passed away. During those special hours as I typed, her accented voice whisked us back into history…
Like the children in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, I found myself in a world of adventure and war, love and loss. Pausing occasionally to clarify the spelling of a French name, Jeannine spoke for hours about her ancestors and their lives in France. She told stories of war, including her time as a resistance fighter in World War II, and of her father, a pilot, crossing over enemy territory on dangerous missions. She told stories of tragedy; stillborn babies, deaths from tuberculosis and pneumonia, and widows and orphans left behind by war. She remembered how elderly folks were forced to sleep on hard wooden floors in the wintertime while invading soldiers occupied their homes.
Humor was frequently woven into her stories, such as the young woman who duped her boyfriend into marrying her, and a village that fooled the occupying enemy soldiers by playing a trick involving a sacrificed pig.
Interspersed throughout her monologues were heartfelt remarks about today’s world. She spoke with ease and fluidity about changing gender roles, the difficulty of learning a foreign language, intolerance towards homosexuals, and the importance of understanding cultural differences. She lambasted the government with characteristic poise and clarity in one breath, while bemoaning the loss of children’s innocence in the next. She remarked on the lack of opportunities for “kids to just be kids.”
When she spoke about the physical, social, and psychological devastation of ongoing wars, her wise eyes would become rimmed with sadness. “We have not learned the lessons of the past,” she would say, slowly shaking her head.
Unfortunately, Jeannine and I did not get to finish her memoirs. I often remember something she told me at our first visit. With calm conviction, and a touch of regret, she looked me in the eye and declared that everyone has a story to tell. She felt that such a significant task as preserving that knowledge should never be delayed until it is too late.
For the privilege of sharing in her memories, for the insight she dispensed with such wit and character, and for all the reminders of what is truly important in life, I would like to thank Jeannine. Merci Beaucoup.