Yesterday I made my final visit to Libby’s House, where Frankie and I were a volunteer therapy dog team for 3 ½ years. The original plan was that it was to be my last visit with Frankie since she was retiring. But as we know, life does not always go as planned. So off I went alone.
Let me first back up and say that the Wednesday before this, I met with the owner of Libby’s House, Christine. She couldn’t be there for the day of my last visit but had a gift for me. She gave me the plaque above which is with one my favorite residents- Libby herself, who Libby’s House is named after and happens to be Christine’s grandmother. This photo was taken two years ago when Libby was a mere 103. Libby’s House also made a very generous donation to Frankie’s Wheelchair Memorial Fund. I was, and am quite honored.
I had butterflies in my stomach as I drove to Libby’s House. I knew it would be hard to say goodbye. Are goodbyes ever easy? But I knew I needed to do this for the residents. They needed closure, too. I’ve loved all my therapy dog work with Frankie, but I have to say, Libby’s House became one of my favorite. So many became my surrogate grandparents and I grew to care and love many of them.
Being a volunteer at Libby’s House was sometimes a guessing game as to who has dementia and who has Alzheimer’s. And some are there for other reasons, but because of the HPPA act I was not allowed to know. While that made me uneasy at the beginning, especially of how I should react around Alzheimer’s patients, what I took away from this experience is that they are all still human beings with hearts and souls… that they still wish to be heard and loved. And they deserve to be treated with dignity and grace.
The staff was so kind to me and many hugs were exchanged. It felt very odd being there without Frankie, but it also felt comforting. This was a place that I enjoyed coming to each month, though it could be sad at times witnessing the decline of some of the residents or when they passed away. But it was also always my reminder that life is about living and we must enjoy each and every possible moment while here.
For the residents who could understand that Frankie is no longer here, I gave them a photo collage of Frankie. One resident who Frankie and I always went to her room to visit, a witty, charming, wonderful 96-year old red head lady, told me that she will say hi to Frankie when she gets home. I always told her she and Frankie were my favorite red heads and it brought a smile to my face thinking of those two meeting again someday.
Another resident who I refer to as Janice in my children’s book, Frankie the Walk ‘N Roll Therapy Dog Visits Libby’s House, is one resident I will miss greatly. She was quite gruff the first time I met her, telling me she DID NOT LIKE DOGS. I was up for the challenge and somehow knew it was just her exterior that was tough. She became one of my favorite residents, too and also within six months grew to love Frankie, as well. She is quite the spitfire, and her and I so enjoyed razzing each other.
Janice was the drive behind making sure as many people as possible at Libby’s House signed a copy of my book I wrote about Libby’s House. They all wrote wonderful notes of how they loved when Frankie visited and how they will miss her. What a treasure that book is now to me with all their notes and signatures!
I also sat with Libby who is now 105 and going as strong as ever. She held my hand and said,” l’ll bet you really miss Frankie.” She continued to pat my hand as we chatted and I couldn’t help but think of how I felt like a young girl once again being comforted by my grandma when I hurt… and how good that felt. One of my best memories with Libby is when she was petting Frankie and she looked up at me and said, “Frankie is love.”
Once again as I set off to visit Libby’s House, I went with the idea that I would be helping them and to bring them closure… and realizing as I walked out the door for the last time, that they all brought me comfort and closure, too. And even though my dog on wheels was not rolling beside me for this visit, I felt her memories of hope, joy, and love alive and well within the hearts of all our friends at Libby’s House.