A few years ago, I had the privilege of being caregiver to four elderly people. In order to earn extra money, I decided that this was a job I would enjoy and do well. Spending time with my mother in the last years of her life when she was in her late eighties and early nineties, making her laugh, going on picnics, shopping and having fun was incredibly rewarding. So, I plunged into my new job with great expectations but not knowing what to expect from my clients.
The first was Mike. He was in his early nineties and had a zest for life that was unmatched. Every morning he would walk out of his apartment and say, “We have a lot to do today! I’m going to keep you really busy!” And off we would go to doctors’ appointments, the 99-cent store, chatting with friends in the clubhouse and around the pool, and his very favorite – shopping at the giant box liquor store. I don’t drink and I’d never been in a liquor store of that size in my life. Up and down the aisles we’d go with me pushing the cart and Mike deciding what wines he wanted to try. And then, our last stop in the store would be Mike taking his time looking at the different brands of vodkas on the shelves. But invariably he would end up choosing his favorite. Before his wife died, the two of them had loved to relax with their martinis every evening after a busy day. Mike continued the tradition faithfully and his enjoyment of his martini was a wonder to behold. Every minute of his life, whether fiddling around with his many electronics, watching old movies or baking in the sun, was lived fully. He taught me that invaluable lesson of being grateful for every day I’m alive and being healthy enough to enjoy every minute.
Florence was not as mobile as Mike because she’d had a stroke, but slowly walking with her through the lovely grounds of her condo complex was a journey filled with laughter. Florence had been single for many years and had traveled the world with her best friend. Before that she’d been an operating room nurse for many years and had zero respect for doctors. She used to tell them off when they screwed up and they took it whether they liked it or not. She was honest to a fault and there wasn’t much in life that she had missed out on. She loved to tell jokes and always had a smile on her face. Even though she experienced pain from time to time, she never complained. Playing board games was her favorite past time and we played every day. She usually won. She also loved to watch a certain cooking show where the beautiful female cook ended every show by making a different cocktail. Florence used to joke that the young lady was surely a lush and probably skipped the food and went straight for the alcohol as soon as they yelled, “cut!” From Florence I learned to smile even when I don’t feel like it, to be honest even when it’s difficult, and not to complain about every ache and pain. Nobody wants to hear it anyway.
Jean, a sophisticated lady in her eighties, lived in a lovely cottage in very expensive senior living complex with every amenity imaginable, including a beauty salon, library, pool, nine-hole golf course, restaurants and more. Everyone was provided with their own golf cart to travel around the large complex. She had lost her husband recently after the two of them had run their own business for many years. She was quite wealthy. Her children thought nothing of writing themselves checks from her checking account when they needed money. Jean told me when she saw her balance had gone down, “I don’t mind giving them whatever they want. I just wish they’d tell me.” At some point, one of her kids decided to move Jean out of the cottage she loved and in with them. I still visited her and took her to her doctors, but the move affected her in a negative way. She no longer saw her friends and became depressed. She missed living in her own home that she had decorated so painstakingly. As she worsened, a nurse was hired to take over her care but every time I visited her as just a friend, she was so happy to see me. I could see her life had lost its meaning and it was not long before she gave up and died. Her life had really ended when she was taken away from everything that she enjoyed – her home, her friends, and everything else that was important to her. From Jean I learned that no matter how old you are, if you still have your wits about you, it’s important to stand your ground and don’t allow anyone to tell you what to do, not even and especially your family. I wish Jean had done that and hadn’t given up her independence that meant so much to her.
Mary was my very last client. She was in her late eighties and gentle and soft spoken. Her family, especially her grandchildren adored her. She had worked at 20th Century Fox as an executive assistant to a big wig and then went on to become Ray Kroc’s (founded McDonalds) right hand lady. When I told her I was vegan she said that Ray had wanted to cut down on the meat consumption of their customers and was working on several meatless burgers. He died before any of that could happen. She lived in a detached condo in a high-end community that was nestled among trees and green hills. She was quite a bit overweight and when she needed to go to the doctors, I had to help her into her wheelchair, wheel her out to my car, and help her out of the wheelchair into the car, then store the wheelchair in the back seat. Going anywhere was quite a production. Through it all, Mary was overwhelmingly grateful, as if she didn’t deserve what I did for her. I assured her it was my job and my pleasure. Like Florence, she never complained even though she was often in even more pain than Florence. She would ask me to do extras for her like cleaning her mirrors and blinds because she liked to have everything perfect in her house down to the most minute article. I totally understood. My mother was like that. She insisted on paying me extra and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Her generosity came from the heart. She loved giving to me, to her family and to her friends. That was her greatest joy. From Mary I learned how much I also love having a clean house and her example inspired me to be a better housekeeper. Even though I’m not wealthy like Mary, she reminded me that generosity brings satisfaction to both the giver and the receiver. I loved all of my clients dearly and every one of them gave me so much more than I ever gave them.