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An Empty Nester Helps a Lonely Lost Senior In a Nursing Home Find His Purpose

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 25, 2023 3:00 am

An Empty Nester Helps a Lonely Lost Senior In a Nursing Home Find His Purpose

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 25, 2023 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Wilber's lifetime companion, his wife, had died... 26 years ago. Wilber was 89, his farm and money long gone, and was possibly the grumpiest soul in the assisted living home. Listener Paul shares the story of a stubborn friendship.

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State Farm is a proud partner of the My Cultura Podcast Network. I love mornings, which is a good thing since the Today Show starts early. Those first hours set the tone for the day ahead. We're here to give you the best start. You get the news, learn something new and even get a little boost. You start the day off with a clean slate and we hope you'll start it with us. We begin our day so you can take on yours. Because every day meets today. Watch the Today Show weekday mornings at 7 on NBC.

Stay safe, stay safe, stay safe, stay safe. And proof of that is our next story by Paul in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Let's take a listen to Paul's story, Wilbur and the Empty Nester. I met Wilbur in the senior home because I was bored. Like a lot of 50-something guys my age, I'm a man in transition.

The kids have grown up and moved out. It's just the two of us again, Cindy and I. I'm missing the rush of activity that used to clog our house and hustle us on to the fields, the ice rinks and the gymnasiums that our kids and all their teammates used to inhabit. There must be something more I can do, I heard myself saying. I wanted to be more involved, more engaging, more invested. Volunteering seemed like the right fit for me. So one day I drove to the senior home near my home in Shakopee, Minnesota.

There was nothing formal about it. The staff allowed me to come once or twice a week. I didn't visit the residents in their rooms, but I hung out in the activity room and the cafeteria. I tried to meet some other lonely people.

In other words, people like me who needed new activities and new friends. Some were easy, some were tough. Wilbur was one of the hard ones. He was 89 years old back then. His wife had died 26 years earlier. In his prime, old Wilbur was a hardworking farmer on a farm near Newell, Minnesota, a small town southwest of Pryor Lake.

But that was then. Based on what he has told me, he lost the farm and all his money, and that was that. He didn't have a dime to his name.

The government is paying for my stay at the senior home, he told me. In a way, I could feel his pain. So I just tried to make him laugh. That was tough duty. The senior home staff told me he was lonely. That was obvious. The activity staff said Wilbur had a reputation for being a bit on the grumpy side.

Well, maybe more than a bit. But he warmed up to me as I sat and listened. At first I had tried recruiting him to bingo night because I started helping with bingo on Monday nights. I was calling bingo some nights and playing games or visiting on the others.

What do you think, Wilbur? Do you want to try bingo? But he told me no, he was never playing bingo again. When I asked him why, he said because he tried and he was yelled at and the players were mean to him. Oh, I said. I suspected people yelling and being mean might not be entirely accurate, but that was before my time as the bingo caller. I told him, don't worry Wilbur, we'll have fun.

I'll make sure you have a good time. He said, no thanks. That made me kind of mad. Being the stubborn German Catholic that I am, I took his rejection as a challenge. I was determined to get Wilbur to our weekly Monday night bingo game. Bingo is at seven o'clock sharp. The residents have dinner in their cafeteria at six o'clock, so I started showing up at six thirty, taking advantage of a captive audience, and I went to work on Wilbur. Each week, I asked him to join us.

Each week, I kept getting turned down. Finally, one evening, my annoyance got the best of him. He said he would come and try just to get me off his back. I made sure he had a great time. I gave him some special attention, teasing him in a friendly way. I don't remember whether he actually won a game that night, but I do remember he told me he had fun. He said he would come again the next week.

That was a big time victory, and I relished it. Wilbur was now coming every week, no begging needed. And he enjoyed it so much that he stayed after bingo when the room cleared out and just Wilbur and I remained. That gave us the opportunity to visit together before he went to his room for the night. We took time to talk about not just how the weather was, but also about how his day went, how his week was going, what life was like on the farm, and how he missed all the hard work. I noticed how my regular visits and just listening to his stories made all the difference. The residents had bingo three times a week, but Wilbur would only come the night I'm calling.

It sure would be nice to go to a drive to visit the old homestead, Wilbur said, but I wondered if such a trip would be too much. So I focused on Assisted Living Week, the homecoming promo for Lonely Seniors. Assisted Living Week gave them a chance to do something special.

It was a big deal. Games, special events, and an excuse to dress up. Every day there was a different theme, different things to wear.

One day was dress up, one was a certain color, and after that was sports day. The residents were each to wear a sports themed shirt. Wilbur was not participating in these events, but with a nudge from a friendly staff member, I decided I'd take a chance. The night prior to sports day, a staff member texted me to see if I could bring a colorful jersey for Wilbur to wear, thinking that he might wear it if it came from me, his new friend. So I gave him a Montana Grizzly shirt to try.

I walked into the room, showed him the football jersey, and told him he could wear it tomorrow for sports day. But Wilbur said no, he was not going to participate. As I left for the night, I held out the Grizzlies jersey one more time, and wouldn't you know, he grumpily took it. But, he said as I left, I'm not going to wear it. But I knew better. I prayed that night for a minor miracle, and sure enough, God found a way to get Wilbur into that shirt. The next day, he wore the silver and maroon of the University of Montana Grizzlies, and I smiled. Last week, Wilbur was not a bingo Monday night. The staff member could not say why, but I asked if it would be okay for me to go to his room and say hello.

She said, sure. So I did something I had never done before. I went to visit Wilbur in his room.

That's a big step for some people. The activity room in the cafeteria, that's neutral territory. Our room is pretty private. But, I wanted to find him, so I walked through the senior home hallway to find him, and what do you know, there he was. Hey Wilbur, I said, I came to your room because I couldn't find you.

I was concerned because you weren't at bingo last Monday. Yep, he said, I was in the hospital for four days. I was having trouble breathing. He told me how he had dialed 911, how an ambulance came and took him to emergency. He said they told him he almost died.

I was relieved he was okay, and I told him he better not scare me like that again. And you've been listening to Paul, the empty nester, telling the story of Wilbur, his friend in an assisted living center. Paul lonely, Wilbur lonely, two lonely guys, trying to pass the time, be companions in the journey of life. When we come back, more of Paul's story and Wilbur's here on Our American Stories. Here at Our American Stories, we bring you inspiring stories of history, sports, business, faith, and love. Stories from a great and beautiful country that need to be told.

But we can't do it without you. Our stories are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love our stories and America like we do, please go to and click the donate button, give a little, give a lot. Help us keep the great American stories coming.

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So you can prioritize yourself. And we continue with our American stories and Paul and Wilbur's story. Now let's return to Paul and Wilbur's story.

For an 89-year-old man, he was looking pretty good. He smiled and relaxed. We visited for a while in his room and we were both more comfortable than we thought. Wilbur showed me pictures he had around his room. Pictures of a young Wilbur and his wife, of his kids and grandkids. He was a strong young father and his wife was beautiful.

They had three children, great looking kids. We had a wonderful talk. He showed me all the gadgets he got from the hospital. A machine he had blown to see how high he could make it go.

Proudly telling me he got up to 26 one time. When I left, he said he was very glad that I came. That he missed me on Monday. He said he was glad I came to see him because his own kids and grandkids don't.

Our relationship is getting stronger and now I've decided bingo's not enough for the two of us. I'm going to make sure and go visit Wilbur one or two other nights a week as well. A few months later I had another twist to my relationship with Wilbur. I went to visit him and once again he was not at the dinner table. I found out he had fallen the day before and was in the hospital. So I went to the hospital to see him. I hurt my shoulder he said but I didn't break it. I told him I was glad it wasn't broken. He said he fell trying to get up from the lunch table. I couldn't press the call button around my neck he said because I was flat on my belly and I couldn't move my arm.

I was scared. Luckily there were still two others in the room so they pushed their buttons and he got the help he needed. We sat and talked for a long time that day there in the hospital room. We were comfortable together. We had moved from a cafeteria relationship to a visit in your room relationship. And now we were advancing up to a hospital visit relationship. While with him that day the first nurse who came in said to me I'm so glad you came. Wilbur has been hoping all day to have a visitor.

The next nurse asked if I was a relative and I said no just a friend. And Wilbur shouted out a real good friend. It might have been one of the nicest compliments I had heard in a long time. When he said it I was speechless. I didn't know Wilbur had it in him. When someone calls you a friend that's one thing. But when Wilbur who wouldn't come to bingo, who wouldn't take the sports jersey, who used to be just a little bit grumpy shouts to one of the nurses and calls me a real good friend.

Well that's about as good as it gets. It's a memory and a feeling I will never forget. It almost brought tears to my eyes.

Almost I said remember I'm a stubborn German Catholic. We talked more that day without trying to pry too much. I learned that his daughter did come to visit him the first night but he wished his two sons would show up. He said he called his boys but they can't afford to come see him right then. I asked if they lived out of town. He said no in a town about 50 miles away. To be fair you're never quite sure why someone doesn't visit. There's probably more to the story.

Maybe he was a little grumpy once too often or maybe there's a dysfunction one way or the other. I decided I couldn't be sure of the real reason Wilbur's children stayed away but that was not my business. My role was to love him and I could be sure of this. Wilbur was lonely and whenever I came he was glad I came to see him and I was glad I was there too. It made me wonder sometimes who was more looking forward to our nighttime visits me or Wilbur.

And you know what I think was probably a draw. For me Monday nights became the best night of my week and I have a suspicion that my friend Wilbur would say the same. One day recently when I came I found that Wilbur was really bummed out. He was moving to the long term side of the senior home the next day. You see there's an assisted living side where you have an apartment and maintain some independence. And there is a side that's more like a hospital when you need more care and you can't be on your own anymore.

It's always traumatic for the residents when they realize they can no longer be on their own and they have to move to the other side. I have to move said Wilbur that's going to be hard I replied. I told him I'd come after work tomorrow and help him move some of his belongings to his new room if he wanted to do that.

Not yet he said let's wait. Wilbur was holding out hope maybe it wouldn't be permanent maybe the staff would let him back to assisted living. I don't know if that was realistic but I knew I could be realistic enough to come back that night and see him and help him get through. Our visit that evening went well. We talked about life's ups and downs twists and turns and what it feels like to go from assisted living to long term care. Not only did we talk about Wilbur situation but also about my life and my struggles.

I'm a reserve person I normally keep my thoughts and feelings to myself. Yet for some reason that evening it felt appropriate and even comforting to open up to my friend Wilbur. We're in this together I said. I think these are the kinds of discussions close friends have yet somehow this was new territory for me and Wilbur was good to talk to. After visiting Wilbur on my way back to my car I walked back through the senior home and saw my other good friend at the senior home Natalia. She was out of her room playing solitaire so I decided to say hello.

Natalia is 98 years old and she has told me she's going to make it to 100. She loves to play dominoes and taught me the game too. It's a lot of fun.

Did you ever play? Natalia got so inspired thinking about it she said wait. She put down her cards and had me go to her room and grab the dominoes so we could play a few games right then and there.

And we had a great time. Even though Natalia is on the long term side of the home I go to pick her up on bingo night in the assisted living area. There have been a couple of occasions where another volunteer has gone to get her for bingo and she has said something to the effect that Paul usually does this.

I'll wait for him. Sure enough the volunteer left her and told me that Natalia was waiting. She always smiled when I came to get her and that day I smiled too. One day I received news from one of the staff that Wilbur had taken a turn for the worse and I should stop in to see him if I was able to. So I went to visit Wilbur in his room right away.

He was lying in his bed, comfortable but unconscious. Yes, Wilbur was dying. The grumpy man who had become my friend. The one who started to love bingo. The one who was in this together with me.

A lonely man making a friend of a guy who used to be a bored empty nester. Old Wilbur was passing away. I was glad I could be there. Even though he couldn't talk I just guessed that he could listen and he was listening. So I just talked to him like normal. I assumed he could hear every word and I bet he did.

Have I mentioned I'm a stubborn German Catholic? I said some prayers with him and talked to him and told him how much of a real good friend he was to me. There in that room of fading away life I explained how I was so glad to get to know him and spend time with him.

And how he had a positive impact on my life. I don't know for sure whether he could hear me or not but it felt good to have the opportunity to talk and say goodbye. I let him know I will miss him dearly. And I walked out of his room. Wilbur passed away peacefully the next day but not before he was able to open up a piece of my heart.

And teach me about friendship in his own unique way. Can you imagine how much I would have missed out on if I had not started taking the drive to the senior home? If I had not tried to learn to call Bingo on Monday nights? I'm learning a lot at that home and I'm becoming a better person. I've learned how to become a better friend. I've learned how to share and how to listen.

I've learned to find joy in simple things. I've learned how to slow down and how time spent visiting and talking can build lasting relationships. I've learned about living as well as dying. I've experienced sorrow and loss yet at the same time experiencing joy and everlasting memories. This might be a bit selfish but it didn't take me long to learn that I get as much or more out of volunteering than the residents do. But most of all I've learned two things.

Number one, you don't have to be bored. And number two, I've learned what it feels like and also what it takes to have a real good friend. And what a great story and thanks to Paul in Minneapolis for sharing it with us, his friendship with Wilbur. I wanted to be more involved, more invested, he said when he started this story, Paul did. And so he drove to the senior home and my goodness it just changed his life. And having witnessed his friends say, you're a real good friend to other people. And what that did for Paul and Wilbur. I've learned a lot, I've learned to be a better friend, I've learned about living and dying. And the big two things, you don't have to be bored. And I learned how to be a friend. What a great story of friendship, of love, of a stranger.

Paul's story here on Our American Stories. Last chance to get our lowest full season price of the year on YouTube and YouTube TV. Terms and embargoes apply.

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Financial freedom usually means having enough savings, financial investments, and cash on hand to afford the kind of life we desire for ourselves and our families. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. Learn more at

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-25 04:12:59 / 2023-05-25 04:22:45 / 10

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