I remember the first time he came in because a couple of the other patients accidentally stared. You see, “Jeff” didn’t look ordinary. He had tiny ears that sat low on his small head. His chin sloped inward, practically nonexistent, and the way he wore his loose clothes showed he’d been born with other abnormalities he preferred to hide.
Over the months, we spent a lot of time in the waiting area together. In between my answering of phones and processing of bills, we visited about the intricacies of life. Slowly he stopped wearing his hood. Sometimes we laughed. One time we cried.
“I like coming here, Elisa,” he finally said one day. “It’s nice having someone to talk to.”
“I’m glad,” I said. “It’s always so fun visiting with you.”
Time passed. I eventually got a better job that led into a bachelor’s degree and then a career. Years later, I ended up running a newspaper in a different town—and as such, I became one of the first people to see the obituaries before they were printed.
I still remember the day I read Jeff’s obituary. His elderly mother (at least in her late 80s) had called and sent it in. He lived with her all those years even into his 60s. And I’m still not sure why, but I didn’t tell her I knew Jeff until she came into the office to get several copies of the newspaper.
As I handed her the publication, I just couldn’t believe that Jeff was really gone.
She started walking out the door and suddenly turned. “He had so many birth defects. And he was so sick. He had no friends. He never got out of the house.” Huge tears rolled down her face. “It’s killing me that he never really knew anyone—and it was all my fault. He lived with me all these years. I just wish he could’ve known more people.... Someone. Anyone....”
“Ummm, Mary,” I used her first name because I’d heard so many lovely stories about her, “I have something to tell you.” Then, I asked her to walk outside with me, so we could talk privately.
I told her about her brilliant son and how much he had changed my life. I explained that Jeff had loved her and all the kind things she’d always done for him. I shared everything I could think of: How he encouraged me to strive for more and switch careers. How his simple visits to the clinic made my job bearable. How his wit and humor were nearly unrivaled. But mostly how much he had appreciated all of her sacrifices so he could have a fulfilling life.
“I can’t believe he was from this small town! And that I’m meeting you now!” I said. “It’s a bit unreal.”
“It was meant to be. You have no idea how much I needed to hear this.” She smiled so big, her eyes completely flooded with peace.
“You know...I don’t think any of us truly realize the complete import of our actions. I bet we’ve all changed so many lives—just like Jeff changed mine.”
She gave me the biggest, longest hug. And I kept thinking about how amazing it felt to share such a sacred, unexpected moment with a stranger.