A few months ago I began helping out an elderly neighbor of ours. Donna is 89 years old and still -- barely -- able to live independently in the home she's lived in for over 55 years. Much against her wishes her family was seriously considering having her move to some kind of assisted living facility. They had valid reasons: she can no longer drive, her health is quite frail, and she was in need of someone to check on her on a daily basis to make sure she was up and able to get around. That's where I quite unknowingly stepped in, going over to her house to give her a little Christmas planter. A representative from a Home Health service happened to be there at her children's request, talking with her about different things their care givers can do -- for a price -- to help her out at home. The woman was just wrapping it up when I arrived so I stayed to visit with Donna for a while. She told me about the services offered by this company. She had a choice of four things from quite a large list. The appalling part of it was the price! $1200 per month! The helper assigned to her had to be guaranteed 4 hours per day 4 days a week, whether Donna needed anything done or not. How on earth is an older person on a fixed income supposed to afford that?! And who knows what kind of people work there, regardless of background checks. Plus they're complete strangers to Donna. She was understandably pretty upset. As she was talking I had a light bulb go off in my head. Why not offer to do it for her myself? I'm right next door. So I told her I'd be willing to do it to supplement my Social Security and I'd only charge her $400 per month. She was so relieved, and so was her family who live about 20 miles away...not too far, but not able to get to her if she's in need of help right away. Donna was happy to accept, and I've been going over on a daily basis, Monday through Friday, with her knowing if anything comes up she can call us any time on the weekend. Some days I'm there half an hour...some days, like when we go grocery shopping, it can be 2 or 3 hours even though she only has a few items on her list. Grocery stores overwhelm her but she likes to get out around people and get out of the house. I take her to the bank, clean her house, doctor appointments, the hair salon.I take dinner over to her if we have a casserole, soup, or chili. Mostly, I just visit with her. She is so hungry for companionship, and before I began helping her she could go weeks without any face-to-face contact with anyone. My daily life is busy enough where I didn't see or realize just how frail she's become. But now that I know, I can fit in time each day to make sure she's alright. Sure, she can tell me the same story over and over every day. She gets mixed up on facts and does things like forget her house key in the outside lock on the front door. I've had to call ambulances twice to take her to the hospital when her heart went out of rhythm and when she was bleeding from the bowels. Once, on a Saturday morning when something told me I needed to go check on her, and another time in the middle of the night when she called me and told me something was wrong and she needed my help. I think I broke all records throwing clothes on and getting over to her house!
The sad part about this story is there are so many of our elderly who are in similar situations to Donna's. Family so busy with the day-to-day hectic schedules they aren't able to do much more than call on the phone. The older person needing help but too stubborn or afraid to ask because they're frightened their independence will be taken away if they do. And foggy minds that can tell you wonderful stories about their lives in such detail from 60, 70 years ago but can't remember their keys or their purse or wallet as they leave to shop. When I was in my later 30s in the 1980s I helped an elderly lady at my church in Portland for a couple of years. She was 96 and still able to live independently but in need of help just like Donna. There was an age span of 53 years between us and even though I knew by helping Leona the frustrations and helplessness she sometime felt, I was still young and didn't really take it all in. I didn't really realize the challenges of the elderly. Now, with Donna, there's only 24 years between us, my 65 to her 89, and now I do realize, quite soberly, that my future could easily be the same as hers in a few years. It's a whole different perspective, let me tell you.
Two things both these ladies told me was they don't want gifts on special occasions at their ages. They don't need or want anything...life gets down to just the necessary needs for the most part. But what both had in common was loneliness. They told me if only their families gave them the gift of time. A simple phone call. Stopping by to visit without being in a rush and in an itch to get away to the next thing. They need to know they still matter, that they're still thought of, that their lives are still relevant.
That they're still loved.