John & I have a radically different view of our work with older friends than we had two years ago. Up until late summer 2015, our experience with older loved ones, good friends & pleasant acquaintances was all upbeat. We hadn’t seen the dark side of aging.
Just over two years ago, we saw an older friend be broken by a well-intention, tragically thoughtless child. At the time, our friend was in her early 80s, recently diagnosed with dementia which was evidenced in messing up her meds & little if anything else, otherwise physically fit, in a home she loved, a house she’d brought over 50 years from run down to delightful, in a community that included a wide circle for friends, professional colleagues, close ties to the school where she’d taught all her life, was a member of a church congregation that loved her.
She longed to stay right where she was for as long as she could, with someone living in to help with the things she couldn’t handle – a mutually advantageous arrangement for both – but her oldest child insisted she give it all up, move almost 100 miles away to live with family.
A dream trip she’d long planned with two grandchildren, a college graduation present to the younger, became in her mind a grand last hurrah. It was an idyllic ten days. On her return, she walked into her beloved kitchen & was greeted by her mutually adoring pooch, walked into the dining room – home! Walked into her music room – and stopped dead in her tracks. The wall facing her, the one that should have been filled from ceiling to floor with her vinyl record collection was empty. Every record gone, given away by her oldest as part of “clearing out the house” while she was away.
She never recovered. Something inside her clicked OFF. It would have been ghastly under any condition, but the shock of the loss crashing with her euphoria over the trip turned it traumatic, a trauma which her child still doesn’t comprehend.
It was a shocker for us, too. We couldn’t get our heads around any of it. For the first time, we saw a parent done in by the good intentions of a wrong-headed child. Sadly, more was to come.
Over all the years we worked with Anne & Marg & other clients, we took for granted the many ways their families went out of their way to make sure their olders were busy, that they had something to DO & had younger, interesting people to do it with – family, friends or engaged care partners. My John’s mom was active throughout her day, even living alone; mine was, too, right into her 90s – not busy like they were as kids of sixty, but always having something on their schedule, something to anticipate.
Before late summer 2015, we’d never considered the crying need for oldsters elders ancients, their families, care partners, support teams & facility staff to have moments of fun & smiles tucked into their day. We get it now. It’s needed for people facing debilitating challenges around aging ever upward ~and~ it’s needed for those who are simply getting acquainted with bodies that no longer do what they once didn’t even notice, who are doing their best to be their best in a culture with woeful attitudes around aging.
Now, John & I see the isolated people when we have our weekly breakfasts at a remarkably nice local continuous care retirement community. This morning, I spotted a friend in the foyer, waiting for a ride – he seemed so alone, emotionally crumpled. He talked about feeling O L D, felt surrounded & hemmed in by old. He talked about missing Anne, who died in January, which took me by surprise, since he wasn’t a particularly close friend – he spoke of missing her radiant smile every day, her upbeat nature & optimism in spite of being deep into memory loss.
He reminded me of something I never fully appreciated two years ago – the power of a single happy moment, or simple things like a beaming smile & kindness.
It’s been over five weeks since we’ve seen the older friend whose well-meaning daughter did her dirt – we’d been taking her out for a drive & lunch once a week. Due to the unseasonably warm weather & the sorry fact the front windows of our ancient but stout-hearted & true Concorde are stuck in UP, it gets hot with the sun beaming in. We’re hoping she’s available for a ramble next week – waiting to hear from the woman who handles her scheduling. I feel sorry we haven’t been over, but our schedules have kept us busy every afternoon, her best time.
Perhaps it was the time apart from her, thinking about her being alone & isolated in a facility that doesn’t do much to keep their residents engaged, that resulted in our coming up with the COMEDY RELIEF KIT, so facilities like hers – filled with staff who care but simply lack the time to do the things their brochures indicate they do – can have simple ways to tuck those all-important moments of fun & happiness into every resident’s, staff, care partner’s days. Preventive care for many, restorative healing for our friend.
Before two years ago, we saw ourselves as entertainers, interesting companions, engaging friends. Since late summer 2015, we’ve sought to be more. The memory of our friend at the Bon Voyage party before she & her grandchildren set out on their dream trip – our longing to do all we can to help restore that awesome woman back to life – is what drives us to do the work before us. Our own form of restorative justice.