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Jo is a really generous person and a great volunteer. She lives alone with her dog, Sally (a toy poodle). She is a widow and has children that live in another state. She is full of life and laughs easily. She is a breath of fresh air.

The other day Jo came in for her weekly volunteer duties. It was after Christmas. Only one family member, her son could make the visit to see her, and he had to go back right away. She said it was really nice to see him. As Jo turned to go, I noticed the back of her head, or her hair to be more specific. It was all matted, like she forgot to comb that part. “No!” my mind shouted, “not Jo!”

See, that’s my visual cue, my telltale sign, my notice to start watching. Now, it’s possible Jo didn’t get enough sleep or she was just worn out from the holiday or maybe she just forgot. Yeah, that’s what I tell myself with all of them. But then I notice them asking the same question over and over, or the not remembering who works in the office or sometimes a general confusion. The guys might have a spot on a previously immaculate shirt or wear two different socks. These are the warning signs, subtle yet unmistakable.

They are failing. They, too are only human and capable of getting older. “No! I want them to stay the same!” They are so comfortable, so dependable, so like a warm blanket on a frosty night. I don’t want to replace them with someone new, someone who doesn’t know the job, who doesn’t have the commitment, who doesn’t make me smile. But most of all, I don’t want to see them fail, to be another one who can’t come in anymore and who chalks it up to life, who takes things in stride and honorably slips away. It reminds me of Bobbie who developed ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and kept coming just like my tears.

Ouch“. I don’t want to sit at another bedside and pat a hand and talk about how much her volunteer service meant. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to put into words how I felt about each one of them. I kissed Jay on the head and he whispered “I love you.” I held Heloise’s hand and she stroked my cheek. I sat beside Ben and said “hi” and his body stirred. And so many others.

Did they know they were more than just volunteers? Did they know that they inspired me and made me a better person? I think I’ll not take the chance with Jo and tell her while she is still volunteering. It will humble me and that’s not bad. And although she doesn’t comb the back of her hair, I will continue to cherish her and to be grateful for the opportunity to know her.

And yes, I will be at her bedside when that time comes. She deserves that and so much more.