I visited Maria from the beginning of the program through mid-February. The first time I visited I introduced myself, and she slept the whole visit. Little did I know then how my following visits would be filled with stories, kindness, and laughter. She would often repeat her favorite stories in one visit word for word with the same twinkle in her eye and energy at the punch line and then get embarrassed when she realized I already knew the story. She would always ask about my life with interest as if I were her own family. I found out later at her funeral that treating people of all sorts in her life like family was one of her most important characteristics.
We talked about her family, her travel experiences, her time in the convent, and her grammatical correctness. We talked about my life studying science and competing in track. We talked about Catholicism and Pope Francis and Women of Grace. She told me she was trying to learn Chinese but it was hard because she often forgot what she had learned from week to week. Whenever she told stories about her life it always seemed like she was honestly reflecting over her experiences. She took time to grieve over her own losses. She hated losing people.
At the time of her passing I was personally grieving the loss of my grandfather who had passed two days earlier relatively quickly. His last days were full of painful decisions about which procedures to allow and to not. I struggled a lot deciding whether or not to leave school and visit him but it was always unclear whether or not he was going to pull through. I was on the phone all the time hearing about another serious infection he had contracted and the progress he had made fighting off his other infections. I spent a lot of time worrying about my mother. In the end everyone had gone home for the day and my parents had gone back to Massachusetts the night he died. He passed without anyone by his side. I missed my chance for a proper goodbye.
My last visit with Maria I did not know would be my last until I arrived. Her family was there and I was told she was declining. I had the choice to go in and say goodbye or to leave. I decided to go in to sit with her and say my goodbyes. I am very grateful that I had that choice.
This experience has showed me the power of companionship and caring during sickness. In the visit with Maria before her decline she went from being silent, confused, and sad to talkative, aware, and lively by the end of the visit. She was in an unfamiliar place that she did not want to be in but after an hour she was completely focused on talking to me and her environment did not seem to matter as much. This is probably when the difference I was making by just being there with her was the most visible to me.