As Bette Davis famously said, “Old age is not for sissies.” Most people find that their advancing years bring some kind of personal challenge. Perhaps they suffer an injury or illness that brings disability.
Sometimes they endure the loss of a spouse or close friends. Some seniors struggle with depression as the patterns and activities of their lives gradually become quieter, slower, and more limited. For many, it is also a time of introspection: Did my life have meaning? Did I leave a positive legacy? Am I prepared to “meet my Maker”?
One of the things that resilient seniors do during this time of personal challenge is make a choice to nurture life. As caregivers, we see this strength of spirit exemplified in many ways:
*A woman who has lost her spouse and is a double amputee fills her home with plants. Shelves are lined with cuttings that she nurtures and shares with others. She and her Cascade Companion Care caregiver trade cuttings. Her faithful friends are three lovely cats that she nurtures with daily affection. A bag of peanuts and birdseed is always by her door for her caregiver to scatter on the patio, ensuring a daily floor show of visiting critters. She keeps in close touch with her faith community and enjoys regular visits from her pastor and friends. No wonder there is a warm sparkle in her eyes!
*A man whose life had been filled with hard work and shining achievements now finds his days slowed by growing confusion and debilitating pain. He introduced his caregiver to the yodeling of Patsy Montana and other musical gems from the past. He put his expansive back yard to use, luring pheasants, rabbits, squirrels, birds and deer with seed and suet while he watches with quiet delight through binoculars. His caregivers keep his backyard pantry well stocked for the animals. “Regulars” are granted a name and a place for a photo on the refrigerator. (Why not name your backyard pheasants George Jones and Tammy Wynette?” ) The bedroom he once shared with his wife becomes a quiet place to reflect and cherish her each night before dinner. And every day, as long as his painful feet would carry him, he walked to his shop to tend his many projects.
*A woman in her 80’s with a spritely sense of humor looks forward to every meal, especially her glass of cold beer, Friday pizza nights, and her favorite cookies for dessert! Her caregiver soon discovers that “food, glorious food” is a major source of enjoyment and anticipation. When her legs shake and her feet won’t move, she and her caregiver chant her own version of old nursery rhymes to train her mind on her task. “One, two, buckle my shoe; three four, get to the door; five six, you’re almost there!” This dear woman nurtures life with a hearty appetite, humor, and lavishing attention on her houseful of 5 cats and dogs.
It is a deep privilege for Cascade Companion Care caregivers to enter the homes of seniors who are facing the adversities of aging by cultivating and nourishing LIFE. Whether it takes the form of houseplants, pets, wildlife, music, reflection, relationships, food, faith, humor, or projects, each one struggles to find streams of the former life that can still water the present. As companions, we strive to help each person recover these areas of delight and offer assistance that enables their ongoing participation. Come to any gathering of caregivers, and you will soon hear how WE are nurtured by witnessing and sharing in their engagement with life!
By Linda Rudat