Half of what I say is meaningless

Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

That headline will only make sense if you were either alive or conscious during the 1960s, or care about good music. It's a lyric from a Beatles song, written by John Lennon for his mother, Julia. And it just happens to describe how I feel right now, trying to write something meaningful about an entirely different Julia.

She was a resident in an Oregon post-acute rehab facility. I met her on a trip to Washington, D.C. last October with nine other World War II veterans and their caregivers. We were there to visit the memorials created in their honor, and my job was to shoot photos and video.

I wrote about the experience here, throwing around wild, irresponsible language like “changed my life.” But since it's the truth, I still feel okay about it.

The first time I met her and dared to point a camera in her direction, Julia glared at me, and with icy daggers on her tongue said, “What are YOU doing?” Being both shy and Canadian, I wilted a little — until the smile broke through and she unleashed that trademark laugh. I soon realized that to be outwitted and verbally skewered by Julia was going to be a regular occurrence, and one of life's great privileges.

Initially, she questioned whether she'd be strong enough physically to make the trip, but she knew she wanted to go — not just for herself, but also to represent all the under-appreciated women who served. Once there, she was overwhelmed by the sights, and even more by the unsolicited adulation from strangers. One woman asked to shake the hand of a hero, and Julia told her, “Honey, I'm not the hero. The heroes are those who carried the gun so you could have your freedom.” Typical Julia.

Coming home, she was her usual, curmudgeonly hilarious self. Reminding the airline staff not to drop her as they wheeled her down the too-narrow aisle. Telling jokes to the flight attendants. Sticking her tongue out in photos. For the many of you who I'm sure commit my blogs to instant memory, you'll recall how I was asked mid-flight to put footwear on a wheelchair bound Navy pharmacist. How I failed miserably. How I discovered Velcro slippers. That was Julia.

After the trip, I saw her only a couple of times. But about a month ago, while traveling around interviewing nursing home residents for a Valentine's Day video on love, I was able to talk with her for about an hour. We chatted first about the trip, then about her life, then about the illusive topic at hand. “Love is giving, not taking,” she responded to my demand for a definition. “It's not me, me, me. It's you, you, you.” With an aggressive finger jab for emphasis.

Julia died last week. It hit me hard, and truthfully, I didn't even know her that well. Not like the caregivers who were with her every day, those who sat at her bedside as she passed away. But beyond the sadness, we all learned something vital from her and the way she lived her life. To smile through pain. To be humble and giving. To exist to be of service — not in it for ourselves, but for you, you, you.

We're all on some sort of quest to find meaning and purpose. We can read books, go to seminars, download meditations, or sit in church pews, all in the pursuit of becoming better people. Or we can look around us, to the life-tested wisdom and living example of seniors.

The answers are as close as Julia, if we just take the time to listen.

And now, since half of what I've said seems meaningless and hopelessly inadequate to the moment, I hope you'll watch this short tribute video, and get to know Julia for yourself.

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold Medal winner in Humor Writing in the 2014 Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He has amused, informed and sometimes befuddled long-term care readers worldwide since his debut with the former SNALF.com at the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.

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Things I Think

Things I Think is written by longtime industry columnist Gary Tetz, who resides in Portland, OR. Since his debut with SNALF.com at the end of a previous century, he has continued to amuse, inform and sometimes befuddle long-term care readers worldwide.

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