My mother-in-law nearly tripped over her walker in delight when she arrived at the dining room of the retirement home where she and Dad live. A special table was reserved in honor of her birthday and there waiting for her were family and some friends, gifts, flowers and champagne! One of my precious moments from that afternoon was the look on her face when they brought in her favorite cake, all lit up while everyone was singing ‘happy birthday’. She radiated surprise, joy and awe, all at the same time.
I looked thoughtfully at the people sitting around the table. There was the family, each of us chipping in with different skills, roles and availability, none of us exempt from helping out Mom and Dad. Sitting at one end were friends of my sisters-in-law. Working about the room were the amazing retirement home staff who really make the lives of those living in the building very comfortable. Mom, as we affectionately call her, became flabbergasted when her doctor (and former boss) dropped in with a huge bouquet of flowers for her. Can it get any better than that?
With the help of her family, Mom has built a strong community of support for her remaining years. We all see her as valued member of our society. I understand that we live in a fast-paced youth oriented world. What troubles me though, are the articles I read implying that our value is determined by our usefulness – that is, the contributions we make while working. Anyone who is not working, or who is not a growing child, is viewed negatively or invisibly.
I contend that the ultimate purpose each and every one of us has is to help others; to be of service. How this manifests in our lives will change as we get older. It is ridiculous to think that someone does not have value just because they are no longer working, or able to volunteer. Here are some of the ways Mom continues to contribute to the community while adapting to a life with low vision and a nagging, stabbing chronic back pain.
• In Mom’s world, loving people has always been more important than rushing around and getting all the tasks done. She still calls out a friendly ‘hello’ to all the staff at the medical clinics I take her to; she stops to pet every dog we pass on the street and chat with its owner. These little touches generally put a smile and warm feeling in someone else’s heart, and makes their day a little better. In so doing, they do the same for others.
• Mom can tell you stories about many of the residence and staff at the retirement home because she lingers, listens and talks with all of them. Compassion and empathy exude from her.
• Mom makes everyone feel as though they are the most important person in the world to her.
• She always looks her best – her face made up, nails manicured and hair coiffed. A few years ago she was in the hospital for some tests and even then, she got up early and put on her makeup. She did not want any of the doctors or visitors to see her otherwise.
• She continues to live as independently as feasible – making her own bed every day, tidying up, doing laundry, etc.
• By living in a retirement home, she gives it a purpose, allowing the owners to employ caring staff who contribute to our society by working there.
• Once a week you’ll find Mom trapesing up and down the halls delivering flyers to her neighbours.
• She continues to donate money to her favorite charities – every little penny helps, she says.
• Although she relies on her community to help her, she awards us all with heartfelt appreciation for every little thing we do for her.
And by helping my mother-in-law, I’ve added purpose to my own life. Granted, Mom’s attitude is certainly making my job easier and more enjoyable. Each family, each situation is unique. I understand the stress of juggling long term care alongside work and family responsibilities. I also get it that providing care is not always harmonious. There are many angry seniors, taking it out on everyone around them.
But someday we may be in Mom’s shoes, seeking support to help us through our remaining years. Mom proves that a life lived with compassion, forgiveness, kindness and grace prepares us to build ourselves a solid support community in the future. The choice is ours. It starts today, not when we’re 80 or 85. My silent wish is that should I ever get there, may I be as successful as Mom in creating a strong and loving support team.