Friends, I'm not in a happy place. I got a really depressing phone call earlier today, and it has upset me greatly. If you don't want to be bummed out, I suggest you skip this. If you don't mind a little sadness at the moment, then read on and maybe you can give me some advice.
There is a library patron -- we'll call him Stan to protect his identity -- who has been coming in for years. He is a very sweet older gentleman, and he is in a bit of a rough patch in life right now.
He used to come to the library all of the time. Even in the warmest summer weather, he would always wear a coat, sometimes with a blanket draped over his shoulders, and a hat. He would always have a smile when he came up to the circulation desk, and would take his hat off before he started speaking. Very much a gentleman. When I would check his books out to him he would touch each one, almost reverently, as I handed them to him. Often he would pat my hand and thank me for getting his books, or tell me I was a "good girl". He would leave me little thank you notes under the windshield wiper on my car in the parking lot, telling me how much he had enjoyed a particular book. He's just a sweetheart.
Stan never learned how to use a computer, but they fascinated him. He favors reading the Romantic poets, or historical fiction. I don't know that I have ever seen him read a book that was published later than 1960, unless it was non-fiction book about a different country -- he loves those. He would makes lists of other books he wanted to read, and if we had to search outside our library system he liked to watch the search on the computer. WorldCat fascinated him. I think it kind of blew his mind that we could get a book he wanted from another state sent to us. He always liked to know where the library was that had sent him his books.
A few years back something happened. I'm not sure if it was an accident or a health issue, but it had to do with his back. He had to go into rehabilitation at a facility for a while, and he was very depressed about not being able to come to the library. He hated the place, said everyone just sat there in their chairs staring. Eventually he was back home, living on his own, and he had an aide that would come to help him. That lasted for a while, and then I didn't hear from him for quite a spell. I was afraid he had passed away.
Apparently he was no longer able to live on his own, and he was moved to a nursing home. He has never outright admitted it, but I get the distinct impression that it was not his choice, but that of his family. For a while even that was tenable, as he lived in the library district and could get home delivery service. A little over a year ago he was moved to a facility outside of our area, so we cannot provide that service to him any more. I don't know his family dynamics -- just that he relies on his nephews to pick up books and return them for him. He has never mentioned having children of his own, and we have had a lot of very long conversations.
I didn't hear from him for several months, and then he started calling to request books once again. I am apparently his go-to library person, as he won't speak to anyone else and requests to speak to me. He leaves messages when I am not in.
At some point while he was being moved between nursing facilities, two books that he had checked out got lost in the shuffle. He was very disturbed by this, and tried calling his former residence to track them down. He did not want to be responsible for someone else missing the opportunity to read them. He was unable to find them, and eventually he was being billed for the lost items. They weren't from our library, and I did everything I could to try and get it sorted out. He would call and ask about it occasionally, as he knew it would keep him from being able to borrow other books. I didn't want him to keep being so upset and worried about it -- or even worse to get sent a collections notice -- so I paid the bill for the replacement cost of his books. He doesn't know that, and he doesn't need to. That wasn't the point of doing it. His record is clear, he can borrow books again, and that is what is important.
A couple months ago he called to request some items, and he was telling me how much he hated the place where he is now living. He didn't go into specifics about why (I'm not sure beyond a vague area as to where he is), just that he hates it and that reading is the only thing that brings him any pleasure. I knew things were starting to take a turn for the worse when he started to get very specific about the books he wanted, and he was so obviously frustrated that he could not just come in to pick them out for himself. They can't be too big unless they are a paperback, as they are too heavy for him to read. He doesn't want children's books, as they are not "appropriate" for an adult level, and he doesn't want to take them away from the children. I do my best, but I know he isn't always happy with what I can get him, and I hate to disappoint him.
A couple weeks ago he called me for help. He sounded so sad and embarrassed, and said he had no one else to ask. For whatever reason he had been taken out of his room at the nursing home, and in the time he was gone they had managed to "lose his bottom teeth". He knew his dentist's name, but he couldn't find where he had written down the phone number so that he could call about getting them replaced. He wanted to know if I could please get him the phone number to his dentist as he had nobody else that he could ask. Heartbreaking. Of course I got the number for him. He never mentioned it again, so I assume he has his teeth again, or else the matter has been settled in some way.
He called again this afternoon, and we had a long chat while he told me what books he wanted: poetry by Wordsworth and Longfellow, particular titles by Thomas Costain. Could I get those for him? Not too big, unless they are paperbacks, or they are too heavy for him to handle and read easily. He didn't sound too good, and seemed very unhappy.
He told me again how much he loved his books -- how reading was the only thing he had left that gave him pleasure. He had finished the two he had out, and he wished he still had the paperback Wordsworth I had gotten for him, but his nephew had returned it and he had meant to keep that one longer. He was out of books and he needed something to read. He was going crazy without his books. He said he had even tried reading the bible again, but it wasn't what he wanted to read. It wasn't holding his interest.
And then he told me that his prayers weren't working. He said that he had always prayed, but lately it didn't seem to be working out as well as it used to. He said he was going to stop praying, that it didn't make a difference. That it didn't matter anymore. My heart broke, as it sounded like he was just completely giving up.
What was I supposed to say to that?
I'm not an overly religious person, but I told him I didn't think he should give up praying. Even if it only made him feel better for a little while it would help. I tried to cheer him up a bit as best I could. Near the end of our call I told him I would get his books and personally look at them all to see if it looked like the kind he wanted, and then call him to let him know they are ready.
He sounded a bit less pessimistic by the end of our conversation, but he still didn't sound good. Stan almost always ends his calls by saying, "I'll be seeing you," or "Talk to you soon". He didn't do that today. He just thanked me for trying to get his books, and for taking the time to listen to him. I told him we would talk soon, and to take care of himself. He said he would, but I was left feeling very unsettled.
I don't know what to do, Friends. I feel like I am his last link left to the outside world, and that I am somehow disappointing him. I know, realistically, that there isn't much I can do except help him as best I can, even if it is only to listen to him when he calls. I'm not his family, and I certainly have no place telling his nephew how miserable he is with his current situation -- I am sure he already knows that. I feel like I am somehow letting him down, and I hate it. I hate it.
If anyone has any advice or words of wisdom I'd truly appreciate hearing them. Even a joke would be good right about now. I've been dwelling on this for the past several hours since he called. I could use a bit of levity.