Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly is an international service organization that connects isolated seniors with visitors in their community—whether for a holiday meal or a long-term friendship.
When I was 21, through Little Brothers, I brought an Easter dinner to the home of Mr. Faherty of the North End of Boston. When there was no reply at his door, I feared he was infirm and incapacitated. I knocked an extra minute longer, and there appeared a robust bald man of 82 in a spiffy Kangol cap joining me outside the apartment door, returning from his own adventure. And he was none too happy to see me. He was a salty former merchant marine with some choice words for every port. He had left his family decades before and although he was independent he was very much alone. There was nothing sweet about spending time with Mr. Faherty but he was decidedly honest. I visited weekly in those early years. I we ate together and walked around the North End. I listened to his stories and his tirades. We watched infomercials and I saw a steady stream of juicers and choppers arrive “as seen on TV.” As the years passed my role shifted. I was no longer a listener or friend, I was his caregiver and his family. Our backgrounds were quite different but he seemed filled with pride when it was assumed I was his granddaughter.
When he was 91, living independently was no longer safe, I moved him to a nursing home near my house. By this time I was married, working full time and pregnant, but still devoted to Mr. Faherty. Medical decisions got harder and we had conversations about life and its value that filled me with dread but unexpectedly taught me a great deal. For another year, life went on. My new baby and I visited him eating tuna sandwich lunches at the nursing home. He commented how ugly the old women were. With his sagging tattoos I pointed out to him, that he looked pretty much as they did. Such was our friendship.
Upon his final illness we had to make the decision to end his care or not to. At 92 he felt he had lived long enough and only wanted to pass without pain. I remember holding his hand telling him that I was again pregnant, and I would tell my kids all about him and his life. He was the first person, other than my husband, I told about my pregnancy with Isaiah, and it was strange to know the secret would leave the earth with him. After he passed we had a military funeral in Cape Cod. Just my mother, my son Louie, and me. Taps played on a scratchy recording. His coffin was covered in a flag and he was surrounded in death by more people than he ever enjoyed in life. Mr. Faherty absolutely changed my life. I marvel that if, that first Easter, I had knocked for a moment shorter, this relationship would never have been a part of my life or his. The flag remains folded military style in my closet.