Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Mirror Mirror, On The Wall...

I am forced to imagine a time at the end of my old life where there is absolutely nothing to look forward to, no purpose to speak of, and having to wait for that 'peace' train that never seems to come and kill the loneliness. A day so long that nothing seems to shorten its' relentless attack on the mind and heart. Allow me to shed some light on the life of a senior, most seniors, now in homes for the elderly.
Even at 60 years old, there is a palpable sadness having to come to terms with the end of a teaching career that provided quite a substantial sense of purpose, second only to raising a son who has flown the nest leaving nothing but heart melting memories I will never have again.
Yes, there are still the grandkids I'm selfishly banking on to provide reprieve from this empty feeling that challenges my life, and yes, thank goodness I can still drive, dress myself, pay my bills, and think somewhat sensibly with borderline faculties in check!
It is the elderly women that I have the honour of working with that further test this sensitive heart. With each senior I help move into retirement communities, the writing is so evidently written on the wall as to where my journey will eventually fall someday, of course God willing I be given the privilege of growing older, and then God willing in some strange way, I don't...
Anna, 85, is my teacher these days, sharing quietly how her independence had been stolen the day the family home of 45 years sold without her knowledge and her adult children tucked her away in a senior residence, out of sight out of mine she explains. Trying to reassure her the intent was to protect her from falls leads us nowhere as she quickly dismisses such kindness as guilt shrouded in wolves clothes. Seeing this as blatant abandonment, feeling unloved and unworthy, there is little I can say to reassure her otherwise.
My mind cannot help but wander to the place she resides emotionally. All her sensibilities are alive and well, yet to Anna, her remaining days are desolate, lonely and unforgiving. Regardless of the well intentions of her kids, they get to leave and continue their busy lives, and every so often allow Anna into their schedule with the proverbial hour long visit or the intermittent phone call. The time that Anna would need from her children is not plausible nor realistic. She knows this.
Standing on the other side of life however, I have a tendency to agree with this 'once upon a time vibrant woman and mother', who now feels she is a burden to her kids and to darn proud to tell them so, for dignity is all that remains.
Anna shared a 65 year marriage with her beloved Ted who died a year ago. Together they raised five kids, had a fabulous social circle of friends, and lived what Anna calls 'a charmed and blissful existence! Fast forward to her world today. Alone now without her better half, surrounded not by her babies but by a few familiar pieces of furniture taken from the home she raised her family in, she now literally just exists. She'd rather be dead, and curses the mornings she still wakes upon.
The retirement homes today bathe in glitter, are phenomenal spaces of decor, provide chef induced meals, and literally leave nothing for the elderly to worry about.
May I say we missed the boat here with propaganda that has tricked our very senses into thinking this form of environment would ease a lonely heart. Make no mistake, they undoubtedly are 'pretty' places to spend one's last days in, but in no way do they provide any fragment of solace to an aged heart who knows too well the score, a heart that breaks anyway and life as they know it is over, even though that tired heart continues to beat...
Today was a difficult day.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

When Life Winds Down...

Working alongside seniors for the past four years has truly been an enlightening journey. I never considered the road to growing old, no doubt because life was so busy with raising a family, teaching, and living in the very 'hectic' moment! Little time was spent in retirement before I found myself pursuing a new venture with the elders of the community, and facing head on the reality of growing old myself. 
Becoming old is taxing, trying, difficult, frightening, tedious, tiring, lonely, and it forces one to evaluate the reality of life slowing down, and eventually ceasing to be. 
The closer to death we come, a rather inflicting reflection takes hold...our children now grown, our careers now over, many family and friends deceased, little to plan for, little to look forward to as health declines and our bones rebel, this all forcing hope and optimism to the back of the bus.
There are those that smile and wage forward with a sense of gleeful purpose, but they are few and far between, and have inexplainable pockets full of bravery! 
An unwavering courage persists as long as ones' partner is along for the ride, but once a spouse of fifty, sixty years or more dies, their familiar life is replaced with an emptiness and loneliness so visceral there is little purpose in breathing.
The human heart is unflappable when surrounded in love, but soon withers if left to beat alone. 
So often I hear it said that to wake to another day alone is excruciating, and unbearable, and if given the choice or the power, would not continue another day. Being an eye witness to this is heartbreaking and perhaps begs the social issue of euthanasia front and centre. 
The newest retirement facilities are breathtakingly beautiful with opulent decor, yet seen through ageing lonely tears, they become nothing but blurred large empty lonely spaces. The old graceful beating hearts are not easily fooled, and know too well that this is the last station, the last stop, the last chapter of their lives. 
We baby boomers can still look forward to grandchildren, vacations, family holidays together, a rather flexible mobility... and time. 
I have a great reverence and admiration for the old of our world, and I pray I do it justice when my time comes.
My parents now in their middle 80's are still here, still living in the home they raised their kids in, still driving, still standing, and often times I hear them say that it is the pits growing old. I say growing old is not for the weak...

Thursday, 18 October 2012

An Unexpected Reality

Today was a rather difficult and emotional visit with a special 84 year old man named Dan, who a day earlier, had a catastrophic fall. Rather independent, he hadn't informed his wife or children where he was going when he set out to photograph an old buried ship on the outskirts of town. There was a section of rock that he had to traverse in order to reach the boat, and as he negotiated the steep decline, he fell forward, face first unto the rocks. Collecting as best he could his broken, bleeding, and battered body, he managed his way to the top of the hill, and drove himself to the nearest clinic. Once in the parking lot, Dan realised he could no longer move and was swallowing a great deal of blood. Several nurses ran out to his car, ordered he not move, and an ambulance was summoned. Dan's face was so badly swollen and bloodied that they assumed he had been attacked. When asked who they could call for him, without a second thought Dan spoke, '' Whatever you do, don't call my wife, she'll have a heart attack.'' They called one of his 4 sons, who managed to get Dan's wife of 61 years, quickly to the hospital. Marilyn was not prepared for what she saw. The familiar face that looked back at her for over 60 decades, was barely recognisable, and she began to cry. Dan had a broken cheek, nose, nasal passage, cut and swollen eye, a multitude of scrapes and bruises, and a torn rotators' cuff to his right arm. All Marilyn could think of was what if he hadn't been able to get back up those rocks, her husband might never have been found in time, or found at all. Dan had loss so much blood that he required blood transfusions, but they found his kidneys were compromised, and he would need dialysis. Dan became frantic with the thought of being immobilised hours a day watching his blood filter through tubes. His oldest daughter, a nurse, convinced him it had to be done as her father was experiencing chest pains. About this time, I had arrived, and entering Dan's hospital room, it was not the sight of his badly bruised body that caught me off guard, but that of his fragile, beaten and defenceless spirit seemingly exposed for all to see. He was restless, and nothing like the strong man I had known for so long. I realised how vulnerable seniors become when their independence is replaced with falls, fears, and fragility. Walking toward Dan's bed, I desperately tried to negotiate my tears stay hidden, but that was not to be. He took my hands, held them tightly, thanked me for coming, and as I reached toward him, he hugged me, and whispered the words' I love you'. Tears streamed off my cheeks unto his, and for the first time in my 57 years did I see a frail spirit betrayed by the years, at one time a strong man, now desperately wanting time to stand still before it robbed him of his pride, his faith, his family, his life. Many seniors have graced my life, but Dan's journey leaves a much more indelible mark with me. To witness anybody in such poignant heartache is trying, but to witness father, assailed by time and unforgiving circumstance was never foreseen.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Thank you God for Marie...

Seniors too often are left alone by their families, their friends have passed on, and much too many are ignored, forgotten, and deemed insignificant. I had the great priviledge of meeting a most beautiful and intellectual 83 year old lady named Marie. A former Windsor nurse, born and raised in Quebec, Marie is worldly, wise and yet alone. To see her, you sense a physical beauty of days gone-by, now nicely manicured into a rather classic, refined vintaged grace.She wishes her hair color maintained in a brown hue, but underneath lies white sheemered locks that provide an elegance suited to her. Her smile radiates through the bluest aquamarine eyes, eyes that at times depict a sadness hovering beneath the twinkle. A familiar sadness that I have witnessed in every senior encountered, as if it naturally follows with old age. I feel a bit of this meloncholy even at 57, having felt wanted and useful when I was a teacher and mother of a baby boy. At times I wonder if I'm even remembered for the role I've played in this world. To be 83, no longer a nurse, a wife or mother, Marie's sorrow stems from the same branch as mine, wondering what will become of us if we no longer hold a role or function in this world. I suppose like most women, we underestimate our beauty, our potential, our purpose, which so blatantly contradicts how others see us.
Marie was no doubt the nurse that went the extra mile, cared beyond the call of duty, intervened at injustice, and shared her gentle gift of compassion more vehemently with the undesirables.
We have spent quite a few hours over the last few months exchanging stories and memories.Marie is healthy, strong, eats well, holds faith above all else, yet chooses to be alone as so many do. Her story is rich in love, hardship, and wisdom. If only I had time at my disposal, her and I could become long lasting friends. I think of Marie everyday, dismayed that the world doesn't see her. Oh what a story teller, a gifted intellectual, a woman of profound faith, a devout caregiver, a witty, vibrant, intropective human being.
I unexpectedly stopped by to say hello one day, and as I walked up her driveway, over the waist high brick column I could see she faced away, her floppy hat shielding her from the heat of day. So many questions attacked my senses. Was she lonely? Why is no one venturing to her door? What is she thinking about? How does she feel? She needs a pet, a friend, family close by. Is she afraid being alone? She should never be alone. She has so much to offer. I will be a friend. How can one not be, once you've met her?
I was so happy to see her, and she felt the same. Could I be so lucky to have Marie in my life corner? The good Lord has graced by life with such rich blessings, and even now in retirement, He continues to look out for me. When I was a little girl, I seemed to forever gravitate toward the elderly in the neighborhood. For some reason, they embraced me as their own and it made me feel so loved, and in turn, I loved them. Today, as my life becomes full circle, it is still the old soul that I gravitate toward, and they toward me. I am comforted, valued and cherished by the Maries' of this world, and I hope they know the immense gratitude I feel...and the mutual adoration I have for them.

A new friendship for Pat and Catherine...

Since July 12, Catherine had fallen three times and subsequently landed a fractured sacrum, and a hairline crack to her hip. I found Catherine sitting in her chair awaiting my arrival. She could not move without experiencing excruciating pain. I thought it best she call her son while the ambulance took her to the hospital. Being very proud, Catherine insisted that her family not be informed. I sat in the emergency area with my old friend for more than 3 hours before a nurse could look in on her. Finally moved to triage, we waited another hour before a series of tests, x-rays, and scans could tell the damage ensued from her falls. I was heading out of town the following morning, and regrettably could not be with Catherine much longer, so once she was issued a room and comfortably sedated, 8 hours had passed, I bid sweet Catherine goodbye. I made the decision to call her son Paul, as I could not imagine Catherine lying alone in a strange hospital. No matter how proud or private she may be, she was someone's mother and deserved her children by her side. When I returned from the weekend, I would find Catherine lying alone and scared to death. There was immense sadness in her eyes, and a hopeless sense about her, believing this was her final curtain call. Of course, I had other plans for her. Visiting every day for 9 days, caring for this old gal seemed as though I was caring for my own mother, and couldn't imagine it any other way. Finally Catherine was discharged and moved to a respite care floor in the building she was living in. Convincing her to be hopeful was a rather difficult task, especially with the amount of pain she was living with. As time went on, I'd take Catherine for short visits up to her own suite, where we watered the plants, checked the mail and collected the newspapers. Eventually Catherine was allowed home, and much preparation had to be done to accommodate her fragile frame, and her weak sense of confidence. She unreasonably feared that her family would find her unfit, place her away somewhere where she would be robbed of the little bit of independence she had left. On the contrary, her sons managed to look in on her, which made all the difference in her recovery.
It was time for Catherine to meet other women her age. I planned a simple old fashioned lunch at our cottage on the lake, invited my dear friend Pat, while my endearing husband Thomas tagged along, as Catherine was quite smitten by his Italian charm! We laughed, opened gifts of friendship, ate a whole lot, and waterlogged ourselves on tea and lemon. Catherine and Pat were very much alike, both being over 75, and shared a great deal in common. Both had lost a sister, Pat's sister was murdered at 33, and Catherine's sister died of a brain tumor at 34, both leaving behind small children and a lingering sorrow shared. Within minutes they had become fast friends.Thomas made the girls giggle with his wit and jokes, and I had the pleasure and honour to dote on these remarkably courageous and classy women for the afternoon.
There is something fascinating happening in this little piece of universe surrounding my precious senior friends.. .something much bigger than us, much wiser, more powerful, that positions each of us alongside the other with an abundance of love. A love that will convince Catherine she has a long way before her days are done here, and that she deserves the attention of her family and friends.
Not that a higher power encouraged her falls, but without doubt made way for many to carry her through her healing, and convince those like Pat, Tom and I that we need a Catherine in our lives.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Elizabeth turns 90....

I phoned Elizabeth days before her 90th birthday, checking in to see what plans she had for the big day. Barely audible, speaking through the tears, Liz is so distressed by the latest health issues that she suggests it's her time to move on past this world, sharing her feelings of loneliness and sadness. Her fun loving demeanor has been replaced with a sense of hopelessness. ''You must hang on, Liz'', I beg. I' intend on celebrating the day with you sweetie! What will I do with the presents I have for you?'' With a valour attempt at optimism, Liz accepts my offer. ''I'll see you in 4 days, Elizabeth...just 4 days, ok?''
I knock lightly on Elizabeth's door that is partially open, and there she sits, in her blue tattered robe, her satin soft white hair without the fluff  of a shampoo. A familiar smile dances across her worn beautiful face as we hug longer than usual. ''Happy Birthday missy!'' It's my birthday?'', she questions. I must hide my feelings of sadness that Liz doesn't remember what the day means. ''Not only is it your birthday, you are a fabulous 90 years old today!'' Sitting beside her, I offer the gifts I've brought for her. A bottle of German wine, a handmade note and roses. She begins to cry, and so do I. I hold her tight, offer to brush her hair, and open the bottle, to which she approves with a nod. She wanted us to sit on the balcony where we usually converse, but it was too hot for both of us. I wished there was more time to spend with her, but I was on a tight time frame today.''Can you come tomorrow. I wait for you everyday'', she shares. I wish I could take her home with me.....

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Hard letting go......

It has been quite awhile since the last blog, mostly due to the enormous business load I've encountered since my business opened in November. So many seniors without advocates, without the proper care, and many without the will to live once they are placed in unfamiliar homes/facilities.
My eyes of 57 years have seen the elderly of Essex County in a new and at times, disturbing light, mainly the level of care provided, the future they see before them, and the overwhelming need for affection and attention.
As time passes us by, no matter how special, or important, or unique we might think we are, the final chapter of a senior's life remains the same for all of us.
As much as there are a great many seniors who are making the most of their lives in Retirement Communities, the majority are lonely, neglected by family, non-trusting, and without purpose. While living within the latte and  cool blue walls of these immensely beautiful 'state of the art' buildings,amenities galore and gold encrusted fixtures, lies the withered aged spirits of men and women who long ago, made their youthful and gifted mark on the world, yet feel as though they are but burdens and inconveniences to family and society. Much of their independance gone, they now must rely on group buses, annoyed adult children, taxis and business caregivers to assist with travels and appointments. I encounter discouraged, tired and cynical babyboomer adult children who desperately need a forum to discuss their aging parents and the toll it's taking on the families, their health and their spirits.Countless seniors exhausted by endless doctor appointments, falls, monetary worries, restricted freedoms, loneliness and diminished health. Yet, it takes but a warm hello, a smile, a touch, or a word of affection to initiate the most precious of lost smiles in the elderly.
My very first client, Miss Catherine 77, has become a lifelong friend and mentor; Elizabeth, 90, a walking scholar on being raised in Germany as a poor little girl; Marie 83, a retired and compassionate nurse in Quebec who continues to heal the sick with words of kindness; Ted and Joan married 67 years, lost a child at 45 and their loyal beloved pet dog Buddie, still holding hands and making suggestive advances at one another in a world where devoted long-lasting love eludes so many; Rose 85, who gave everything to her children and now lies alone in a longterm care facility, no longer the spirited jovial gal, battling a bone infection.....her sons out of sight; Clarence 97, who mourns his beloved Betty who recently died, a real gentle man who taught me the 2 step in 40 minutes; and the many others who have no idea how important they truly are to young kids like me.
There remains a sadness in me, wishing I could have known them in their youth, wanting them to stay around a little longer while I travel through my senior years. The profound sorrow that surrounds me really has it's roots in the knowledge that they will not be here much longer for me to love, and to feel the love they provide me. This raw reality has me questioning where I go from here.......