Tuesdays With Annie

One of Annie's bears.

One of Annie's bears.

Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of something before you realize all that it is going to require of you. When this happens you can bail, do a partial job, or commit to the project. In February 2011, I became a hospice volunteer. I wanted to help patients write letters, thinking they would have very poignant thoughts to share at the end of life. My sister, a hospice nurse in New England, inspired the idea. When I approached the volunteer coordinators for Hospice, they asked if I would be willing to also help patients write about their lives. I agreed to give it a try.

I began working at Hospice House on Thursday afternoons. I knew that I had lots to learn and this was a great way to get experience in palliative care. I do whatever the nurses need me to do like make coffee and milkshakes (big), cook, do laundry, wash dishes etc. I interact with families and I also get to interact with patients, which was awkward at first, but eventually I relaxed. No writing needs surfaced until April, when two opportunities presented themselves simultaneously. One gentleman passed before we could get started, but another patient, “Annie’” was eager to share her story and thus we began.

In preparation, I researched hospice organizations and life-story writing around the United States via the Internet. Some hospice organizations simply record the patient talking about their life and then copy the recording onto a disc to give to families.  Hospice gave me a digital recorder, but it was quite old and audio quality was terrible. I decided to try to take notes on my computer, while the patient was talking, and then I would mesh my notes into a story. With no experience and no mentor, I dove into the project. For the past six months, Annie and her stories have been my labor of love.

Annie is a character. When we first met, she said that she had always wanted to write a book about her life, but she never got around to it. She even had a title for it, “Why me?” I explained to Annie that I wasn’t a book writer, but I would be glad to record details of her life, and when we finished, she could use them as she wished. I began visiting with her every Tuesday afternoon. I could see that talking about her life was helpful and enjoyable to her, and her social worker confirmed this. I’ve got about 16 pages that I’ve attempted to put in chronological order – an impossible task. Annie is 94 and very sharp, but she doesn’t always remember accurately, so proper order gets perplexing. Sometimes when I visit, we don’t work on her story, we just talk about the news or what’s on her mind at the moment.

I want to do my best for Annie by giving her a finished story someday, but I’m beginning to doubt that will happen. Annie still talks about writing her book, even though I’ve reminded her a few times that I’m not doing that. I’ve promised to visit her even if we aren’t working on her story and I’ve encouraged her to find someone that would really write a book for her, but she makes no attempt to end this charade that we have going on. It’s confusing for me and a bit stressful, but I suspect it makes her feel important to tell her friends that she is working on a book about her life.

In August, the charade got even more interesting when Annie told me that her friends encouraged her to write stories about her stuffed animals. Annie loves her collection of stuffed toys, and she makes up cute stories about them. Annie has great phrasing and tells stories with old-fashioned wording that makes them entertaining. So, one Tuesday in August, instead of feeling confused and stressed about the life story that wasn’t getting finished, I got to feel confused and stressed about what was I supposed to do with the two bear stories Annie had just told me. I told her that getting books published was a big job that required a lot of time. She wasn’t concerned about that, her plan was to take the stories to Barnes and Noble or the Hallmark store and get them to do it.

Annie is a master at getting people to do things for her. With no children of her own, no family in town, and only one living sister on the opposite side of the country, Annie is truly alone in the world. That single fact endears her to you. Annie cannot take care of herself, but she’s gathered a network of friends who keep her afloat. She’s a very cute old lady who calls you “darlin” and tells you she loves you and you can’t bear to break her heart. What was I going to do about these bear stories?

I decided to put together a storybook through Shutterfly, an Internet company that publishes photo books. I’d never done this, but Shutterfly is very user-friendly. A few Tuesdays were spent collecting photos related to the story, but I had to wait about a month to get one final picture of Annie’s friends, which she mentions in her tale. I completed the book and it should arrive next week. She knows her book is coming and I’ve explained that it is something I’ve made just for her. Yet, last week, she asked me where her friends could go for copies. Ugh!

Who knows what I’ll be working on next. It’s an experience of a lifetime! I am committed to Annie and her projects . . . whatever they are. If you want a copy of “Once Upon A Christmas,” I’ll need $40 and an address.

Love you, Annie!

Category: Life-Story Writing Class 4 comments »

4 Responses to “Tuesdays With Annie”

  1. Cathy Conerly

    Your blog continues to be my most favorite read. You make me laugh and cry — and love you more! XO

  2. sue

    Thank you, Cathy. I appreciate your faithfulness so much!!! XO to you.

  3. Emily

    “Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of something before you realize all that it is going to require of you.” Isn’t that the truth!? Beautifully put together story of your srotywiring, Mom. And I look forward to seeing “Once Upon a Christmas”…!

  4. Emily

    Oops – I meant “storywriting” not “srotywiring!” :)

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