By Kristian Partington
Irene Grybas’s Lithuanian accent is thick as she looks at me smiling and says, “You know what, I’ll tell you something, I love everything about this place.”
She’s just finished her workout with the team in the Program for Active Living, which is helping her regain her strength after knee troubles put her in a wheelchair, and we’re now sitting in the small general store she runs off Main Street in the long-term care neighbourhoods of Taunton Mills. Irene has lived here for three years, she tells me, following her husband after he became a resident, and though she may be living in long-term care she’s one of the more active residents in the entire village.
I sit with her hoping to ask about Christmas memories – ‘tis the season, I figure, and with the familiar carols quietly playing throughout the village and all the decorations in place, it seems appropriate.
But she begins by telling me how she visited regularly after her husband moved in. “At that time,” she says, “while I was visiting him, I learned how to live in here; I was preparing myself and I said ‘one of these days I will be here.’ ”
At that time, macular degeneration was seriously affecting her eyesight and it soon got to the point where she could no longer drive and she relied upon others for support. Her name went on the waitlist and about four months after her husband moved in, she arrived. Taunton Mills is comfortable and quite beautiful, she says, but the real attraction has always been the kindness shown by all the team members, and that has never changed.
She recalls with a smile how she could see her husband’s window from hers after she moved in, but he still seemed far away at times and she always hoped she could be even closer to him. “Christmas came along,” she says, offering the story I hadn’t even asked her about, “and I was thinking I’ll write a letter to Santa Claus and ask if he could just put me where my husband is and do you know what happened? Just one or two days before Christmas they told me I was moving.”
Once more, she was right beside her love and there she remained until he died two years ago. “He passed away happy because I was there,” she says, her smile still wide and her eyes damp with bittersweet remembrance.
It’s quiet for a moment, but for the carols playing overhead. We continue talking for a half-hour more. She tells me about moving to Canada after migrating from Europe to South America. We talk of family and how life moves fast, at times. We talk more of her connection to Taunton Mills and her contentment in helping others who live there find their connections.
I leave grateful for her kindness and open heart, thinking back to her Christmas wish three years ago. The greatest gift, her story reminds me, is to be with those you love and to cherish the time you have.