"Always Have a Paper Flower..."
Joe, an Assisted Living resident where I once worked came to me one evening and asked if I could drive him to the hospital to see his wife who had been admitted earlier that day. I took him for a quick visit before the hospital visiting hours were over. After his visit, as we headed back to the Assisted Living, Joe seemed quiet and sad, so I began chatting with him. I asked him how many years he and his wife had been married and he proudly told me 64. I mentioned to him that the next week I would be the Matron-of-Honor at my sister's wedding in California. I explained that I needed to do a toast and asked him if he could share any advice on how to have a long, happy marriage like he and his wife. Without hesitation he replied:
"One, never go to bed angry...
Two, always appreciate each other...
Three, always have a paper flower..."
I told him I understood one and two but was not sure what number three meant. What did he mean by a paper flower? He told me the story of coming home from the war. His wife was picking him up at the train station. He said he felt bad as he had nothing to give her so he asked a woman at the ticket desk for a piece of paper. She handed him onion skin paper and a pen. He explained that he had planned to write her the most beautiful love note and then added how surprised she would be when she saw that note, as he was not the love note type. Unfortunately, he could not get the pen to write. He explained to me that he decided instead to fold the paper up and make a paper flower which he gave to her when she arrived. She cried. He said from that day on that the paper flower always had such significance to them. He said if he had a bad day at work, when he sat down at the table for dinner the flower would be on his plate. He said it was also their white flag because if they were arguing, he would put the flower on the pillow as a way to say he was sorry. He said it was a visual reminder of their love for each other. I was so touched and asked him I could use that story as my toast at my sister's wedding and he was thrilled.
Upon returning to the assisted living, I grabbed a can of tomato soup from the kitchen and walked Joe back to his apartment to heat it up for him. As we got to his apartment and he opened the door, what was the first thing I saw? The paper flower. It was on a wooden base with a glass dome over it and placed on an antique dry sink right in front of the door. It was the first thing you saw as you walked in their apartment. I had been in their apartment a myriad of times before this evening but I had never noticed it. I asked Joe if it was always there and he said from the day they moved in. The flower showed 60 plus years of age as it was a bit tattered. Had I seen it prior to him telling me, I might have wondered what it was or I may have thought how unpleasant it looked but since I knew the meaning and emotion behind that flower...it was breath-takingly beautiful. I wonder how many times the Assisted Living caregivers noticed it as they walked in the room. I wonder how many housekeepers dusted around that flower not knowing what it was, not knowing the beautiful story of Joe and his wife and the emotion attached. I wonder if anyone ever asked what the flower was about. That day taught me a valuable lesson...talk with people...ask people questions to get to know them...seek first to understand who they are and what they have to offer. But most of all, listen as they tell stories, really listen. Beautiful lessons can be learned.