Thursday, December 15, 2011

Age Is Just A Number

I visited a nursing home with a women's group from my church. We brought pan dulce (sweet bread), fruit, juice, and a large variety of presents on a Saturday morning.

Spending time with them, giving out presents, and singing Christmas carols together filled our agenda for the morning.

I loved that it did not smell like incontinence or decay. It was clean and plenty of morning sunlight warmed the area.

The people gathered in the activity room looked happy and pleasant. We set to work passing out the food. I love visiting with elderly people and hearing their stories, so this was a plum assignment for me. I got to spend time at each table visiting while I passed out fruit. Some shook my hand and engaged in lively conversation with me, some smiled, and some were just comfortable in their wheelchairs.

One rotund man with a University of Texas Santa hat on his head clapped his hands when I got to his table. I pulled over the fruit and greeted them. He stuck out his hand, so I clasped it in greeting. His grip tightened and I realized he wasn't going to let go as he talked with me. I was wearing boots with 3 1/2" heels and so I was tottering over him and holding a plate of fruit when he pulled me down towards him, telling me to sit on his lap. I lost my balance for a moment, teetered, and almost bit the dust. I regained it though, and was able to put the fruit down and pull my hand away from him in one motion.

My face was as red as the scarlet skirt I was wearing as I made my way to the next table. The ladies there were sweet and told me the man in the UT Santa hat was quite the ladies' man. I assured them I was married and wasn't looking.

The gathering ended with all of us singing carols together. A couple of the residents had tears running down their faces because they loved these songs so much and had such wonderful memories attached to them.

As we packed up to leave, a beautiful woman scooted over in her wheelchair to a clear place and motioned me to come over to her. As I pulled up a chair next to her, she shook her head a little and said, "It really means a lot that you all would come out here. It really does," she continued. She dabbed at her eyes with an embroidered handkerchief.

Her thick hair was a glowing white, her nails were expertly done, and she wore jewelry with flair. She wasn't dressed in a robe as some of the others were, but in a chic jacket and slacks outfit. Her makeup was fresh and done with a practiced hand. Even her slippers were blinged out.

I was touched and looked into her face so I could see her eyes. I was startled as I realized I knew her. She was Miss Estelle, who owned an elegant dress shop in town I used to visit with my mom when I was a little girl.

"Oh, Miss Estelle, how are you?" I asked. Mentally, I tried to calculate her age. She had to be in her nineties by now.

"It's been a hard year, to tell the truth. You know, my Tom, my sweetheart, passed away four years ago. Missy, who was our only child, passed away from cancer at the beginning of this year. She never had kids, and I'm the only one left of my seven sisters. I didn't think the end of my life would be like this."

My heart squeezed for her. "I'm so sorry to hear that, Miss Estelle." It was hard for me to think of anything appropriate to say, so I patted her hand.

"I can't change those things. I'm here, and I'm thankful for every day I have. I'll just have to buck up and bear through this. My mom was like that, and I'm like her. I will be OK, although it will be new territory for me."

"Miss Estelle, you look truly beautiful. I remember how well you always dressed, and you certainly still do," I told her.

She smiled. "Really, each day is a gift. It wouldn't do me any good at all to go around sloppy and frumpy. Every day I open my eyes, I'm going to give it the best I've got. I may be in this place now, but that doesn't mean I should quit living." She punctuated it with a smile and a nod.

As we wrapped up our conversation, I hugged her goodbye. I was deeply grateful for the rich lessons.

We made our way to the front door and the man in the UT hat was waiting by the exit. He clapped his hands when he saw us and called for me to come to him. One hand patted his lap while the other motioned me over.

I hustled to the front of our group and out the door as I called goodbye to him. More than one resident of this place still loved to live life fully.


  1. A truly touching holiday story -- and experience, Shelly! I felt so sad for Miss Estelle but impressed by her resilience and determination to live fully despite all her heartbreaking losses. And how wonderful that you love visiting older people and hearing their stories. That's such a blessing!

  2. Dr Kathy: I am still in awe of her attitude. I love it! And, I think the elderly are some of the most interesting people on this planet. They bless me!

  3. Dearest Shelly,
    Oh, you call it "a plum assignment", how wonderful, my friend!!!
    I TRULY admire the way she faces her losses and how encouraging and grateful for her to be with you☆☆☆
    Kind of surprising coincident♬♬♬

    You might know my father is in the old-people's home. He is suffering from dementia but there are some who are not. Whenever I visit my father, the same women and men seem to be waiting for me to have conversation. Some don't have any family to visit them.
    I sometimes wonder if I can have that kind of attitude when I get to her age (if I will).
    Haha, I will try!!!
    Love and Lots of Hugs to you, xoxo Orchid*

  4. Orchid: I think those homes can be the saddest places or the happiest, and most of it just depends on how a person looks at life.

    I am so sorry your father is going through dementia. You are such a good daughter. So many of those people there are starving for someone just to talk with them. How sweet of you to be there for them.

    I, too, want that kind of attitude when I get to be that age!

    Thank you, dear friend Orchid!

  5. I'm breaking away from my house guests for a few minutes, Shelly, to read your post and comment. In Pennsylvania I belonged to a seminar group that fanned out to nursing homes every Christmas taking flowers, fruit baskets and plush animals to the residents. I found the experience so rewarding that I continued doing it after I moved to Florida. However, I conducted the impromptu visits entirely on my own without any group, organization or agency's authorization or affiliation. That made the experience even more powerful because I had nobody to rely on but myself to successfully carry out the mission. At more than one facility the charge nurse at the front desk asked me if I was a church pastor and where my church was located. They couldn't conceive of a lone man showing up on Christmas eve bearing gifts and asking to see only the most desperately lonely shut-ins, the wretched, forgotten ones who had no family and little hope left. As I sat with them the people held my hand and didn't want to let go just like the man you described. They wanted to tell their stories and they needed for somebody to listen and to care about who and what they were and what their lives meant.

    One of our blog friends recently posted a picture of a 100 year old woman who cared about her appearance as much as your Miss Estelle. 100 is the new 50 if you will it to be so. Each and every one of us must stay in the game, look our best, do our best to stay fit and trim, and find something or someone to be passionate about. Don't just drag your sorry ass out of bed in the morning. Get excited about life. Find a reason to spring out of bed in the morning.

    Back to my guests, dear friend...

  6. Shady: How sweet of you to break away and leave such a moving comment. It really brought tears to my eyes. After living lives of such vitality and effectiveness, to be longing for someone just to listen to them is a tragic shame. I'm so thankful you have continued it. I plan on doing it at this local nursing home, and we already regularly visit the one my mother in law is in.

    You're right- we owe it to ourselves to put our best out there every day. Anything less would be cheating ourselves.

    Enjoy your company, good friend Shady!

  7. Oh Shelly, what a special visit you had; what a blessing you were and what a blessing you received for being there. I am glad you got to see Miss Estelle; even with everything that has gone on in her life, she still had such a great attitude about things. Imagine to be the last one left in her family. My mom was the youngest of 10 siblings and the last one that died, but she still had us and grands.

    I remember two Christmases ago hubby played with a group at a nursing home, singing carols, giving a message about the Christmas story and Jesus. I remember when we left we went around and shook everyone's hands (there were about 10 of us in the group)Every single resident were so grateful we had come and said kind words to us. I had to really hold it together (until the car, LOL) because I just about lost it with their genuine gratitude.

    May you have a good weekend Shelly!


  8. I just love reading your posts, Shelly. You have such beautiful stories to tell and you tell them well.

    I hope I still dress well when I am her age. I hope all the loss and pain in life doesn't make me droop and give up as so many do. She is a wonderful example of living life to the fullest.

  9. It is a wonderful thing for churches to visit retirement homes. Like Shady, I used to go visit them with a group and sing. It is true the people are grateful and many are lonely. We did go sing at one place where one of the men kept yelling, "Tell them to shut up!" lol

  10. I am so touched by your posting this evening Shelly. Jenny had a similar post about visiting a home for the elderly. I've shied away from them since the loss of my parents. They moved here after Katrina as I know you are aware and they were so sad the entire time they were here. My Dad missing New Orleans and old friends and then my Mom missing the same and the loss of her husband of 56 years. You all are close to convincing me I need to go back and spend time again with those lovely people. They had residents who were former members of Mensa! Lots to be learned and appreciated with each and every one.
    Lovely and loving of you Shelly!

  11. Betty: I'm ashamed now that I don't visit this local home more often. They are satisfied with so little that we give them. One of the men asked me several times if we were coming back. I have to find the time to do this. I'm so glad you got to go, too.

  12. Crystal: Since my last birthday, aging well has been on my mind quite often. I, too, have that goal to age gracefully and beautifully. I love meeting role models like her.

  13. Belle: Gosh, you made me laugh so hard! I can just imagine someone yelling that!

  14. Sush: I loved Jenny's posts and I well remember your heart rending ones about your parents in the aftermath of Katrina. I can totally understand how going back would be difficult for you. It really is such a pity that all the talents and experiences housed in those precious people all too often go to waste.

    I hope you will be able to visit and that it will be rewarding for you, friend!

  15. Shelly, your experience is so moving. How startling to have that experience with the man in the hat. I might have dropped the fruit on his head. On one of our visits to Meadow View, an ancient lady with shocking white hair that stood up on end tried to grab Elliot...driving her chair with her feet, with arms out and a wild look in her eyes. He was terrified and hid behind me while we scooted around her chair. She had no respect for boundaries, perhaps a consequence of dementia. In any case, it's so heartwarming to read about your visit, and Shady's, and everyone who has touched someone's life near their final journey. I used to be so full of myself and too afraid to reach out, ignoring what I didn't want to recognize. Thank you for sharing your compassion with those around you, especially those hidden from view. And thank you also for sharing these experiences with all of us. It's truly inspiring.

  16. Jenny: It is kind of hard to remember at first that those who are dealing with cognitive challenges there won't have the boundaries we are used to. That little man was mush stronger than I anticipated and I almost went headfirst into his lap when he pulled me down. Ack!

    I so love reading your stories of visiting Meadow View. I hope that lady didn't scare Elliot too much. When I was his age, I would have been too scared to go back!

    You really inspire me to do more. Thank you for putting up your beautiful posts!

  17. What an interesting visit. No doubt, it was meant to be you were able to sit with Miss Estelle and notice who she really was, and how good that must have felt for her.

    That lap man....kind of creepy, but I guess it shows men really don't change, do they? haha!!

    Thank you so much for your prayers Shelly, they mean so much.

  18. Jamie: I am so glad things have turned out well for you! You and the baby are continuing to be in my prayers.

    The lap man- I'm sure he was like that when he was younger, and now that he's older and doesn't have as many filters, it just gotten worse!

    I was thrilled to be able to see Miss Estelle again and get to talk with her. It was such a rich treat and I do plan on going back!

  19. Oh, I loved this post. That is a good lesson. Just because she is there doesn't mean she has to quit living- so true!

  20. Kelley: She has such a great attitude- I came away humbled. Wise words from a very wise lady.

  21. Miss Estelle is a strong, beautiful woman. The man in the UT hat sounds like my grandpa.

  22. Missed Periods: They always keep life interesting!

  23. This is so kind of you to visit elderly home.Glad you posted it. We don't care much about them.

  24. izdiher: It is so sad how the elderly are treated. They deserve so much better.


I love to hear from you! I also love to comment back.