Companion Diaries: Therese's First Visit

Therese Santiago is a sophomore at Stanford

Therese Santiago is a sophomore at Stanford

I remember feeling a little nervous for my first visit. Nervous, yet curious and excited to meet Astrid, the 97-year-old homebound woman I matched with, and Natalie, her daughter.

A few weeks prior, I responded to an email advertising an appealing community service opportunity: visiting people with dementia and doing fun, leisurely activities with them. I was eventually matched with Astrid, who wanted a companion to type up her stories. The chance to hear and transcribe her stories seemed like a really interesting and worthwhile way to spend my time, and getting paid was an added benefit.

After biking from my dorm to Astrid’s nearby home for my first visit, I waited nervously outside Astrid’s door. Natalie opened the door for me as Stewart – their energetic dog – greeted me excitedly. Thelma, Astrid’s professional caregiver was there too in case Astrid needed anything. Their presence eased my nervousness, and within a few minutes, Astrid launched into her first story: her involvement in the early development of penicillin.

I was amazed at the stories she told me about her life as a graduate student and eventually as a member of the FDA. She described her thoughts to me in detail about the creation of this medicine and the competitive industry that gave rise to it while I typed up her thoughts and tried to keep up with everything she was saying.

She then told me stories of growing up in Virginia and her experience dealing with race as a young girl. At the age of 2, she was somehow aware of Mississippi lynchings and conscious of the role race played in shaping the South she grew up in.  

After she finished her stories, I was shocked to see how quickly the time had gone by. Her stories were captivating, and they still are today. I left wanting to come back and deepen the connection we had begun to form, which I did over the next few months. Since my first visit, she’s told me many stories about everything from her global travel adventures to simple moments in the home that she’s lived in for decades. Each of these stories are meaningful to both her and me.

I’ve gotten to know Astrid and Natalie a lot better through Astrid’s stories and through occasional email updates of Astrid’s health as well. Once, when my family was in town, they were able to meet Astrid and Natalie as well! Thelma, Astrid’s caretaker, her daughter and I have even developed a relationship too.

These visits have become an integral part of my experience in college and I look forward to them every week. Playing a role in retaining Astrid’s history has been one of the most meaningful things I’ve done and I’m very grateful that I’ve had this opportunity to learn and grow in new ways.