The reason why I leaned towards working with those independent living seniors was that as I myself aged I felt why should I surround myself with people using walkers, canes and wheelchairs now while I was still relatively young (everything is relative, isn’t it.) Plenty of time to be in that environment when I got “old.” Too depressing. A real downer.
For the past three months I’ve worked in an Assisted Living community (please don’t call them “facilities” – too sterile and hospital-sounding.) It was just a matter of circumstances that brought me there. At first it was somewhat depressing. Here I was, and here “they” were. Rolling, shuffling, slowly along. I was where I said I would never want to work. What had gotten into me?
It was during the third week that something happened. I don’t know what it was. I can’t remember anything specific. It just dawned on me. These people, they were the lucky ones. They were the ones, now well into their 80’s, 90’s, a few over a hundred, they were the ones who had somehow avoided getting sick and dying in their 60’s, 70’s or 80’s from cancer, stroke, heart attack, you name it. So what if they needed some assistance walking, maybe taking a shower or getting dressed. They were still living their lives as fully as they could, with help as needed, but living none-the-less. And rather than live on in isolation in their homes, they had taken the leap and joined a community of like-minded individuals in pursuit of continuing to live a meaningful life. And I’ve seen it first hand: not only have they benefited, but so have their families.
For me, it was not only eye-opening but liberating. And I can more easily make the connection between the present activity level of these folks with what they surely were in their youth and younger adult life. It’s not hard to imagine them as they were working at SLAC, or Intel, or the Palo Alto Clinic, or as a principal at a local high school. They are far from just being “old people.” They’ve got much that they are still interested in, do and to learn about, and so much to teach. And it’s an honor to work in their presence.