The office next to mine is empty.

Well, not completely. A few pieces of furniture, an ugly lamp and some dog-eared file folders clutter the space a long-term care colleague once occupied. 

But that’s not what catches my eye each day as I lumber past the doorway. It’s the abandoned phone on the floor, with the voice-mail light still blinking

The intended recipient is long gone, but the signal continues to pulse 24/7, like the unheeded SOS messages sent to the nearby steamship Carpathia as the Titanic sank. 

This has continued for several months, and I’m consumed with curiosity. Or maybe obsessed is the better word. What could that unretrieved message possibly be? What deadline missed, what task unfinished? What appreciation unheard? What story untold? What test result unknown? What good or bad news unshared? What hidden weakness or dastardly secret waiting quietly to be exposed?  

It’s a mystery that almost certainly will never be solved. Eventually, some IT genius will yank the plug from the wall, callously reassign the device to a new owner, and the unanswered question will be lost forever. 

But in the meantime, I’m thinking useful and disquieting thoughts about pesky little topics like mortality and legacy.  

We’ve all heard about the welcoming white light toward which we’ll each be drawn in the final moments of our lives, but we don’t think as much about the blinking light we’ll leave behind. The one that will continue to flash long after we’re gone in the minds and memories of those we’ve known and loved, reminding them for better or worse of the space in their lives we formerly occupied.

As I ponder my own inevitable exit, I’m left to wonder what my blinking light will signify? I hope it’s more than a nebulous and fleeting reminder that I was simply here. I hope it triggers something warm and enduring, affirming that I tried my best, with honorable intent, to leave a positive mark in the world.  

And for everyone who has spent their life providing care for vulnerable seniors, your blinking light will remind the rest of us of the example you set, the sacrifices you made, the lives you touched, and the work that remains undone. Every flash will offer us the inspiration when we need it most to follow in your footsteps with the same strength and courage you’ve shown.   

We won’t be able to retrieve the message, but it won’t matter. We’ll know what it said. 

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a two-time national Silver Medalist and three-time regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program, as well as an Award of Excellence honoree in the APEX Awards. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a writer and video producer for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.

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