When the elderly make the move to assisted living, it’s not easy on anyone. Their former caretakers often feel guilty and they themselves often feel frustrated and dependent, but not every carehome is bad. The transition may be hard, but with time, it proves to be worth it. I visited a carehome down the street from my house because I’ve always been curious about it. I grew up in carehomes, my mother had three that she ran alone, and I wanted to see if this one was anything like it. I spoke with two women and two men about anything they liked, and they all shared a story with me, which I felt deserved a platform. Here are their stories.
Gertrude told me she’d been struck by lightning three times. She explained the first time was during childhood, she was playing in the rain with her brothers and the next thing she remembered she awoke in a hospital bed. The doctors informed her that the burns could have been much worse and sent her on her way. She says she remembers it only taking a few weeks to heal, and feeling different afterwards, to quote “I felt like a damn superhero.” The second time, she was driving along the Texas roads during a storm and felt a jolt along with instant pain. She recalls telling doctors that this had happened before and them telling her she’d been very lucky to survive, her responding “I wouldn’t call getting struck by lightning twice good luck.” The final time Gertrude was struck by lightning was in her forties, walking her dogs. She explains how the sky had been clear and the clouds came in very quickly, and she had been rushing back to her home when she was struck. She said that this time she knew it was coming, like she’d developed a sense for it, and braved herself. The burns were even less than they had been the last two times, she said. I looked on to the caretakers in the home and they agreed with her story, and frankly, so do I.
Next I spoke to Charlie, who made an agreement with me to tell his story as long as I left out the name of his former company, so I will refer to it as the Company, and give you the information that if I were to tell you the name of the Company, you’d recognize it immediately, as it was and is a huge corporation. Charlie began working for the company when he was 16 as a part time job on an assembly line. He explained to me that from his first day he spotted problems within the Company and grew passionate about fixing them. By 18 years old, now living on his own after graduation, Charlie was promoted. Soon he was promoted again, and then again, until he found himself fixing the problems he’d recognized as a 16 year old. Charlie described the CEO of the Company as kind but stern, and how he saw Charlie as an equal, even before he became a candidate to take on the responsibilities of a CEO. He soon did exactly that, and described to me how he thinks a business should be ran, with kindness, but without tolerance for repeated mistakes. I told him if I ever started my own business I’d keep that in mind. The caretakers told me that Charlie sometimes had Alzheimer’s flare ups and thought the closet was an elevator in the Company building and became frustrated if he couldn’t tip after breakfast, so they’d make sure to put quarters in his pockets every night.
Another woman told me a much shorter story, but with as much excitement as if she’d been telling me a long kept secret. Rudy told me she’d given birth to seven kids, and couldn’t believe none of them could take care of her. Her kids had found lucrative professions, one a lawyer, one a doctor, one an entrepreneur, and the rest somewhere in between. She left me with this advice, “Stay on birth control until you’re ready to raise ‘em like me, I did a damn good job.”
The final man I talked to was named Hugh, and had the most interesting take on life. He told me that being old was one of his favorite stages of life, right behind his twenties. He said that although he knew the end was somewhat near, he felt content, and excited. He told me he tried to learn something every single day, and proceeded to ask me if I knew anything about deep sea fishing. I don’t, unfortunately. Hugh told me to get through high school, and to tell my friends that college is great, but so is starting a career, so do what you want. He ended with a fun fact about lizards and then told me he was off to take a nap.
From spending time with the elderly, I learned that everyone has a story to share if you have the time to listen. Will they always be true? Maybe not. Will they always be worth your time? Absolutely. Don’t let these people leave without feeling as if their life means something. Listen to them. And you might be surprised, most of them are funny as hell.