A trip I have taken for many years, has now ceased. I will still drive past this home away from home, but I no longer have someone living there. Since June of 2010 my mother has lived at Quail Hollow Senior Living Community in West Lebanon. When she first moved in, though her vision was greatly diminished, she was active enough to attend coffee hours, and participate in other activities with other members of the community. She and I would go shopping, eat breakfast at Denny’s (her favorite) and attend church. I took her on many road trips the first few years she was living here, acquainting her with New England, so very different than the San Francisco Bay Area, her home for almost fifty years. As she aged into her nineties, the trips were remembered, but no longer attempted.
Being a caregiver when you work full time and are raising a family can be challenging. I am convinced that the term careworn expression applies to any within our population that provide support for family or friends on a regular basis. Consistently my family has heard from other residents at Quail Hollow, from medical professionals and now from Bayada hospice that we are the exception, most people do not provide daily care to their parents.
Many elderly in our community do not have family close by. In my mother’s apartment building, I have witnessed many times how the residents all watch out for each other. Those who drive will offer rides, or ask if someone needs groceries. Cards are given in celebration of a birthday or when someone falls ill.
These past few weeks, I have had much time to reflect on eldercare, end-of-life care, and what this country is already facing with an aging population, and not enough infrastructure to take care of all that need it. Assisted Living communities are very expensive. Medicare and Medicaid do not cover much of what of an elderly person needs as they begin their final journey. We are fortunate that Dartmouth-Hitchcock has an expanding geriatric division, that includes a team of doctors who make house calls, so patients who are no longer easily ambulatory, can be visited in their home instead.
My mother left this world on February 17th. After so many years of driving from work, or home, or stopping in on my way through from somewhere else, it will be quite an adjustment not to turn down the long drive and visit her. She is the last of her generation in my family, and with her passing, we will no longer get to ask her about the Depression, her immigrant Swedish parents, World War II and her role as a SPAR. I won’t get to listen to her stories of her time in Peru, or Seattle, or San Francisco in the 1950’s where she met my father. I won’t get to watch her talk to a little one in the store, or have her compliment me on what I’m wearing. I won’t be buying the pastries she loved at Lou’s or King Arthur, and Manhattan’s just won’t taste the same without sharing one with her.
The elderly in our communities are the keepers of history. They have the unique ability to look at current events and take the long view, as they recall similar times of turbulence in the world and apply that knowledge to evolving situations providing perspective for the younger generation. Look around your neighborhood, your church, your gym and keep an eye out for someone who has been living a tad bit longer than you have. Engage in conversations with them, take them to coffee, or offer to bring them groceries when they are not feeling well enough to shop themselves. If you have the time, consider volunteering at one of the many senior centers in our community, or help deliver Meals-on-Wheels. I know that in time, I will be seeking these voices in my own life, as the one in my own family has taken her final journey. You will be missed Mom, the world seems a little dimmer without you Dory Doll.