When Don, who had Alzheimer’s, moved into a nursing home, his family worried about one thing above all others…how he might get along with a roommate. He was known for being cranky, and his crankiness had only increased as his dementia progressed. They didn’t see their dad doing well sharing a room, but they didn’t have the finances for a private room.
On moving day, Don’s family showed up with his most prized possessions: a Green Bay Packers blanket, an autographed photo of Reggie White, and a couple of framed Packers posters. They placed his Packers t-shirts, sweatshirts, and baseball hats in his closet. Oh, and the jersey he always wore on gameday–the one he called his “lucky jersey”–hung in the back of the closet. They’d have to explain to the staff that it wasn’t for everyday wear…just Sundays during the season.
At first, Don didn’t have a roommate. An empty unmade bed sat on the other side of the room. His family was told someone would be moving in at some point. They hoped he could continue to pay for a double and live in a single as long as possible.
After a month or so, Joe showed up. Joe, who also had Alzheimer’s, happened to be African-American. (Don was white, and his family had heard him make some racist comments under his breath as his dementia progressed.) Don’s family remembers seeing Joe and his family arrive in the room and worrying that there might be an issue based on race.
Except there was one thing that made them think the situation might be okay…Joe was wearing a Packer’s sweatshirt and hat.
Don took a look at him and said, “Packers?”
Joe smiled slightly and responded, “Packers.”
And things were okay.
Actually, they were better than okay. Don’s family referred to his relationship with Joe as a “bromance.”
They didn’t talk much, but it was football season. On Sundays, Don would roll his wheelchair over to Joe’s side of the room to watch the NFL. Their families soon realized that neither was aware of whether the Packers were actually playing or not. To them, every game was a Packers game. Sometimes college games on Saturdays were even Packers games.
Once in a while, one of them would mention a Packers player who had retired decades ago and say that they had made an impressive catch or tackle. The other would nod in agreement.
Sometimes a staff member would come in and find them sitting together looking at a blank TV screen conversing as if they were two football-obsessed guys in their basement watching the NFL. Don’s daughter often bought them Pepsi from the vending machine. She was pretty sure they thought they were drinking beer.
Joe’s health suddenly declined, and he seldom got out of bed. Don would still roll his wheelchair over to Joe’s side of the room to watch games. Joe didn’t open his eyes, but sometimes nodded when Don cheered or reacted to a play (which the Packers or any other random team had made).
One day, Don’s family was surprised to see he had placed his Packers blanket over Joe. Another time, he presented his lucky gameday jersey to Joe’s son and indicated he wanted Joe to wear it. It actually moved Don’s daughter to tears.
Joe passed away after living with Don for over a year. Don’s family worried that Don would miss him, and yet they found it sad when he didn’t.
It was as if Joe had never existed to Don.
Don went back to contently watching his Packers games (or the non-Packers games that he thought were Packers games) alone. He never asked about Joe. To the relief of his family, the nursing home didn’t move in another resident. Don’s family remains grateful to Joe for giving their father what they call his “final bromance.”
And they like to tell people that sometimes the only thing that really matters in friendship is that you root for the same team.