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In Memory of “Mr. Ray”

May 17, AD 2014 18 Comments

July 2006 075

The following essay was published in the July 2010 issue of Bay State Parent magazine, a local magazine for Worcester County MA parents. This was the first post I ever published on my old blog. He died on May 9, 2014, ten years after we met him, weekly visits that changed our life. Please say a prayer for him.


“Mr. Ray”

weekly visits that changed our family’s life

Bay State Parent | July 2010 | Shrewsbury, MA

About six years ago, in 2004, my husband suggested we take our children to visit an elderly person once a week to teach the children about respect and giving. At the time we had a 9-year-old boy, Max, and two baby girls, Abigail and Grace. Our parish put us in touch with a man we call “Mr. Ray.”

Right away Max and Mr. Ray discovered they were a good match at checkers. We developed a routine of visiting a few hours each week and just chatting over checker matches. Mr. Ray was hard to beat. Max taught him other games, and they sparred at those while the little sisters searched for toys around his house. The girls made an imaginary mouse-friend in his grandfather clock and turned some furnace tools into pretend house cleaning equipment. Perhaps spending two hours a week losing a checkers game wasn’t the pinnacle of excitement for a boy, but we sensed very early that these visits were meaningful.

Over the next few years Max came on the weekly visits less as he grew older and became busier with school activities, but the girls still visited with me. Our family was changing, but Mr. Ray was there, always the same. He helped to welcome three more children into our family. Checkers was phased out and replaced by preschool card games such as Old Maid, Go Fish, and Slap Jack, and a weekly ritual of eating cookies began, Mr. Ray cookies. Mr. Ray started collecting enough lollipops at the bank to pass out to the children, just little things. We developed a seasonal pattern of sitting by the indoor stove during cold weather and on the back porch during warmer weather. We shared our holiday meals and brought him palm branches at Easter for his wife’s grave, who we learned died on the very same day Abigail had been born. When the girl’s started school at St. Mary’s Elementary in Worcester, we were surprised when Mr. Ray told us he was born and raised a few blocks away from that school and even attended as a boy. Mr. Ray developed a special fondness for Abigail. He taught her how to count to 100 while brushing her hair. Grace drew him pictures and dressed up his hair. I think the girls reminded him of his own daughter who, he said, was killed at a young age.

When we decided to name our next daughter after my grandmother, Marie, Mr. Ray had questions about her. Both Mr. Ray and my grandmother lived full lives serving large families, and they both lived alone with their memories of good times in the past. My grandparents lived all their lives in Texas, raising a family together on the same piece of land. My grandparents’ daily habits were different than Mr. Ray’s were with his wife, but the reasons were the same—they served each other. My grandmother cooked the beef my grandfather raised on their farm. Mr. Ray’s wife made Italian dishes with the tomatoes he raised in their garden. He felt a connection to my grandmother because of our talks, and sent her a card when she got sick and was placed in a nursing home in Texas. When she died in 2007, we talked a lot about life and death, spirituality and the body. He helped me grieve. There’s much to be learned from someone who has lived so much longer than you have. It gives you a new perspective.

Someday I may be alone. What stories will I have to tell? Who will listen?

In many of our conversations, Mr. Ray repeated how he had never seen a doctor in his life and was emphatic on never seeing one—ever. One day we showed up for a visit, he answered the door, greeted us, and took the new baby from me while I got the other girls inside. When we sat down in his living room, he closed his eyes and dropped his head. He began to fall sideways, and I caught him. He was unconscious. I had no choice but to call 911, and they came to take him to the hospital. As the ambulance drove away, I hoped he would forgive me for breaching his record.

The hospital stay was filled with tests. He had surgery for a pacemaker. Then he was placed in a nursing home where he developed pneumonia. He told me he felt ready to die, sick and in pain, unsure if he’d ever leave the nursing home. Although they were probably too noisy, I took the kids occasionally to see him in the nursing home too. Gradually, he got better and even started visiting with the other patients and reading lots of books. I can never know for sure what happened in his mind, but he told me he held on because he knew he had a purpose to live. It still amazes me that we happened to visit him just in time to help him that day I found him unconscious. Two years later, I would see him give our newest daughter, Lucy, a Mr. Ray cookie.

Even more amazing, since he left the hospital he seems to have gotten younger. We don’t visit in his living room or back porch anymore. No! Mr. Ray has started planning outings for us. He stretches us to do things that I wouldn’t normally do with all these small children. The addition of a little boy named Jack makes six children in our home now and Mr. Ray is a big help when we go places. We had a picnic at the park where Mr. Ray pushed swings and helped the kids do the monkey bars. He had more energy than I did! I found myself sitting at the picnic table and reveling at the sight of this 89-year-old man laughing and running around like a young man, with my kids hanging all over him. Mr. Ray even recently finished taking a Ti-Chi class on Tuesday nights and was quite proud of himself. He now takes walks in the malls, visits people in nursing homes, and is actually kind of difficult to find at home anymore.

There was one particular outing that we will never forget. This past fall he planned a trip for us to the Beirne family-run Berlin Orchards. He arranged everything. We picked apples, took a hayride, painted our faces and some pumpkins, rode the horses, played with the chickens and ate a picnic lunch. It was a beautiful day, a memorable day full of smiles and love.* I am so thankful for that memory, and I look forward to more of them with Mr. Ray. Early in our visits he once asked me where all his energy went. Wherever it went, he sure seems to have found it again.

Our friendship with Mr. Ray has turned into something greater than just a weekly visit. It has taught our children so much, added depth to our lives and purpose to his. Friendships are great gifts. The gift of his friendship will outlive Mr. Ray because he has changed our family’s life. Someday eighty years from now I hope my children pass the same gift on to other families . . . checkers, cookies, swings, and smiles. Thank you Mr. Ray.

*He actually took us back to the orchard the next year too, after this article was published in 2010.

Pictures tell the story better . . .

June 2006 051 July 2006 068 July 2006 069 July 2006 071 July 2006 084 100_0083 100_0079 100_0077 100_0074 Max 100_0364 100_0330 100_0337 100_0335 100_0334 100_0304 100_0295 100_0103 100_0096 100_0092 100_0107 100_0109 100_0116 100_0111 100_0117

DSCN0311 DSCN0308 Apple Picking with Mr. Ray DSCN0298 DSCN0268 DSCN0293 DSCN0283 DSCN0289

Rest in peace, Mr. Ray.

Hello, and thank you for reading. I am a wife, mother of seven, and joyful convert to Catholicism. I write from my office in a 100-year-old restored Adirondack mountain lodge. Read more about me here, with pictures. Find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. "Like" my Facebook page Science Was Born of Christianity to follow updates about my book. God bless you!

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  • WHB

    What a gift of love and compassion for all of you. When we give from the heart we always receive it back in good measure, flowing over. My wife and I hope there will be someone around for us someday. We see lots of lonely old people here. Hard to absorb. Their loneliness is palapable.

  • bill b

    Inexorably beautiful…but where did his own children go….did they move far away?

    • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

      Yes, to my understanding they didn’t live nearby, but his son and his granddaughter visited him when they could. His granddaughter is the one who kept in touch with us after we moved away from MA two years ago. She told me of his passing last week.

      • bill b

        Facetime etc. for offspring in the affluent cultures would become a Church commandment if I were Pope ( spare the brethern Lord…they’d never accept the Southern Comfort and limeade).
        I have family in Taiwan and a state away and it’s very connective via ipad2 in all houses. Hopefully the poor are wiser still and stay close to each other.

        • bill b

          Tonight I asked all the saints of the first,second and third centuries to pray for him. Tomorrow I’ll ask a different group.

          • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

            Thank you Bill.

      • Janet

        I’m so sorry for your loss! I will pray as well. My dad (who passed away on Good Friday, 2013) was, like your son, named Jack. His last name was Ray. So as I was reading about Mr. Ray, needless to say, I was thinking about him as well. I am so glad you could be there for Mr. Ray, and especially that you shared this.

      • wolskerj

        So you moved away from him too?

  • http://judithbabarsky.com/ Judith Babarsky

    What a beautiful story. Thank you.

  • adevar@hotmail.com

    I miss my grand pa……

  • lisa parker

    beautiful story and pictures——thank you for sharing

  • David Peters

    What a wonderful, sensitive article, filled with love. Friendships like this are very very special.

  • Ezbs

    Just beautiful Stacey. May God Rest the Soul of Mr Ray.

    Our elderly are an irreplaceable gift. And to be in their presence is truly something.

    Your post reminds me of two ladies- my grandmother, who I grew up with. And my husbands grandmother who I only knew for 5 years before she passed. God rest their souls. They had an impression on my life each for different reasons.

    My grandma held onto life with her family surrounding her, as my brother and I and our families made it in time to say the last decade of her beloved Rosary. The prayer ended and she breathed her last breath. A resilient hardworking woman who loved to cook, her grandkids, loving and faithful to God, and loved Our Lady.

    My husbands grandmother made me feel welcome and that I belonged. Her great devotions were the Lebabese Saints- St Charbel in particular. The Preist at her funeral, commented on her warm hospitality, and her tireless love and care for her family. She buried an infant son, and a grown son (my father-in-law), and a husband.

    They sure don’t make them like they used to- strong, loving, authentic and full of life’s wisdom.

    Your posts are always full of meaning and depth Stacey. God Bless you and your beautiful family always.

  • Noel

    Thank you for this most beautiful,family article–we all belong to the family of God and you gave that gift to Ray and he to your family.

  • Ashan

    Greatest story ever… God Bless you all…especially Mr. Ray

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  • john iannotti

    A wonderful story and wonderful thing you have done for an old man who lived alone. I am Ray’s step son and filled with emotion as I ponder your story and mine together. We truly celebrated Rays life as he lived it the way he wanted and seemed to be happy and fulfilled whether alone or with people every day I knew him. He believed strongly in mind control and used it to die on his terms as well. Let me tell you about him from a different point of view. Ray came into my life when i was about 8 for a brief period when he was dating my widowed mother. He left and came back when I was about nineteen and a student at WPI. I lived with them as a commuting student for a few years and did much of the maintenance and improvement to the house they bought after marriage. He and I never seemed to hit it off until after my mom passed eleven years ago. He would stay in the conversation only long enough to start some friction and get my mom angry with him. Then he retreated to his solitude in his basement ‘man cave’. After she died, I kept in touch with regular calls to him. First they were twice a month and then increasingly more often as his health became a concern. The seven hour trip to visit Worcester kept me from many loved cousins as well as Ray, But whenever we came, a visit to him was the priority. We talked long on each call and our visits were always pleasant. My guess is that he was very jealous or guarded of my mom’s attention. She naturally treated me well as a son and that may have been the trigger for his hostility then.

    He loved the kids to visit and my grandkids were always a treat to him. Yet he seemed to relish his solitude as well. A real paradox. Did you know that he graduated from Clark university, but had such a severe stuttering problem that he spent his career as a machine operator in a factory. He left all he had to my sister’s (she passed away 32 years ago) and my own kids. he had none of his own. Reading your blog about your relationship with him gave me pangs of guilt that our visits were little more that yours. My compliments to you for that. My wife Jean and I do much the same for the singles in our neighborhood. The rewards of giving are many.

    Ray wanted to go back and live his independent life as soon as he recovered from the last of a series of falls, but when he realized that was not to be, he decided to die. Sounds flippant I am sure but hear me out. Jean and i were there visiting for the second of two separate weeks just prior to his death. We tried to introduce him to the idea of assisted living and show that his home was not suitable anymore. On the day we left for that long drive home, he said that he too would soon be leaving to go home. There went all my efforts down the drain. he had been patronizing me into thinking I had sold him on the idea. The next day he attempted to show that he could and in spite of the Rehab Nursing home orders of only assisted departures from his bed, he attempted to go on his own. He fell and they called at 11Pm that he was OK from the fall but had finally agreed to a “long term” bed. I knew that was a major event, so i asked a cousin to pay a visit. She found him sitting up very much alert but with his eyes closed. He thanked her for coming, but asked her to leave, saying that he was in the process of dieing. He never opened his eyes for her as he concentrated his mind on his goal. he died the next morning.

    I am so glad that I remained in contact after my mom died. He was never a father to me, but I still learned things from him.

    john iannotti

    • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

      John, yes that is the “Mr. Ray” that we knew too. He always spoke very kindly and highly of you. But he was a paradox, that’s the perfect word. If you’d like, please email me (stacytrasancos@msn.com). Thank you your note. It means a lot.