Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More
“This is the year,” I told myself. Staring at my Stephen King Day Planner while mulling the week ahead of me, I saw that Tuesday, October 23 was a special day. In red pen, I had written, “Jan’s B-Day, 1928.”
My mind traveled back to 2001, the year I met Jan. I had just started a new job at the Alzheimer’s Association in a very rural part of Utah, and I was struggling. Resources were scarce, I was the only employee, and my office was (literally) a broom closet. When Jan called to see if I needed any volunteers, I felt a prayer had been answered.
Jan was feisty, funny, and a very hard worker. She didn’t know much about Alzheimer’s when she started volunteering, so she took it upon herself to learn as much as she could. She answered the phone, stuffed envelopes, assembled information packets, and did basically anything I needed to keep the office running. And she didn’t even mind working in a broom closet.
She also supported me when I was clearly stressed about my life in Utah. She struck a rare balance between offering sound advice while never passing judgment. I came to regard her as a trusted friend as well as a stellar volunteer.
Over time, Jan began to confide in me about her painful divorce, her son that she wished she saw more often, and her slowly declining health. I began to understand that her desire to volunteer was two-fold – she wanted to help others, and she needed to keep busy to cope with her own sadness. It became clear that Jan needed me as much as I needed her.
One day, I received a call from Jan’s friend Maggie. Jan had suffered a stroke and would not be able to volunteer that day. I rushed to the hospital as soon as she was allowed visitors. A testament to her spirit, she was already making jokes and asking if I had any work for her. She exuded grace in the face of difficulty that inspires me to this day.
Jan was not able to come to the office anymore, but she continued to volunteer for me from the assisted living facility she moved into after her stroke. When my journey in Utah had ended and I prepared to move to Illinois, I made sure to pay her a special goodbye visit.
As often happens, we vowed to keep in touch, and also as often happens, we did so for a while. But over time, our emails and letters became less frequent, and eventually we lost touch. Which brings me back to that entry in my Stephen King Day Planner.
Ever since knowing Jan, I marked her birthday in my calendar with a red pen. And for the last several years, I saw that demarcation and thought, “I really ought to send her a card, but I’m so busy right now. I don’t even know if I have the right address anymore. I’ll be sure to do it next year.”
So when I realized this month that “next year” had come yet again, I decided that I had had enough with my own inability to follow through. “This is the year,” I proudly declared. I had lots of wonderful news to share about my marriage, my writing, and my blessed life in Illinois.
But it was not meant to be. When I searched online for Jan’s current location, it wasn’t an address that displayed. It was a link to her obituary. Jan had died on September 14, 2011 at the age of 82.
I am ashamed, and I have learned my lesson. It’s not a new one, but it becomes painfully vibrant when the theoretical becomes personal. How many hours did I spend on pointless tasks that I felt at the time were paramount when I could have been reaching out to someone very dear to me? How many opportunities to connect with loved ones do we miss because we are so consumed with our own agendas? It is too soon to say that I’ve forgiven myself, and I’m not going to pretend that this is easy. Instead, I’ve chosen to tell you my story and hope that you learn something too – for the sake of your own emotional well-being.
Please, please don’t let waiting turn into regret. Whatever it is you’ve been meaning to do, make this the year that you actually do it.
Dedicated to my friend Jan, a true friend: 10/23/28 – 9/14/11.