The trials and tribulations of being a nonagenarian intellectual

It was around a year ago when a social worker visited The Commander at the hospital long term care facility she was temporarily living at — and *hating* it. There’s a long story surrounding all of that. The short one is, “it’s hell to get old”, as Radical Betty used to say. To be completely fair, the long term care unit at that hospital has the most wonderful staff in the world and they absolutely *loved* The Commander. The downside(s)? It’s an old facility in sore need of updating. There are a lot of residents who are totally unable to take care of even their most basic needs. The Commander’s room housed four residents and two of them were in that category. I felt compassion for those folks and I know that The Comm did too, on some level, but I also know that it was excruciatingly hard for her to have to live in those conditions. (It will be for me someday. Believe me, I thought about that every time I walked outta that place.)

Anyway, I made an appointment with a social worker in order to try to explore ways to possibly get potentially round-the-clock help for The Comm in her home. That ended up seeming impossible. I knew I couldn’t manage it from five hours away. So, the social worker arrived and, in assessing who The Comm was and what her needs would be, asked about hobbies and interests. Like, “Do you go to the [adult day care program]?” Weeelll… Nooooo… Up until the little crisis that changed the path of The Comm’s life (and, by a rather circuitous route, led to her death), she was independently going about her own business. De-acquisitioning, lunch dates, de-acquisitioning, shopping, de-acquisitioning, water ex, de-acquisitioning, library, de-acquisitioning, Elders events.

The Elders… Okay. I think that adult day care programs are wonderful. I have even read about an *overnight* program for seniors with various kinds of dementia who tended to wander about at night and that sounded absolutely fantastic. The Commander’s “word search” capabilities were rather dysfunctional in the last couple years but she was *not* suffering from any kind of dementia. She didn’t *need* adult day care. She was taking care of herself — although it was getting to be a struggle… A struggle that she wasn’t really ‘fessing up to. I can’t say there aren’t moments I don’t feel angry about that but I was also probably ignoring some signals and I can’t say that I blame her.

What are your interests and hobbies? I’d encountered this question with my mom before, like loooonnngg before, and she always struggled to come up with a clear cut answer. “Crocheting?”, she tried to offer once. Well, sure, crocheting is something The Comm could do but let’s expand that into fiber arts, okay? I think she struggled with that question. She was interested in so many things! I carefully inserted a fact into the conversation with the social worker. “She helped found the Elders program at Lake State.” The Elders. A program of classes and trips and lectures and tours and concerts and whatnot at Lake Superior State University for older and / or retired *intellectuals*. I can remember when The Comm and Radical Betty were vibrant 70-somethings and they were instrumental in starting the program. They were absolutely buzzing with conversation about it that summer. Making phone calls and not taking no for an answer from anyone. At one point, they seemed so obsessed that I actually asked if this Elders thing was all that important. I mean, it was *August*. People were on vacation, yada yada. “Oh yes! It is VERY important!” Okay then… They were right. The program is still going.

That social worker was a wonderful person and I will always remember her. She spent a good hour (in my memory) just *talking* to The Commander about her life. People kept calling me during this so I had to keep ducking out but I have a vivid memory of The Comm talking about rattling around the southwest during WWII, following her new Army Air Corps flight instructor husband from town to town as he pursued his career in the service.

In the end, Jeep and Pan took The Comm in for what turned out to be a couple weeks until her beautiful room at the Freighter View assisted living facility opened up. Er, not that she was particularly happy at Freighter View *either* <grin> (and <sigh> I tried my best, moom, I know you wanted to be home).

What got me off on this tangent today is that one of The Comm’s best buddies wrote me (i.e., stuck a letter in the door at The Comm’s house) to ask for pictures of The Comm and Radical Betty. Because when the Elders have their annual luncheon in a couple weeks, they will be honoring my mother and aunt. And I am sending photos, thank you very much Shutterfly.

One Response to “The trials and tribulations of being a nonagenarian intellectual”

  1. Margaret Says:

    The problem with your mom(and my parents too really) is that they don’t have hobbies, they have LIVES. My dad loves to read, discuss politics/history and spend time with his family. He walks a LOT. But he doesn’t consider those things extraneous to just his normal life. I think that’s awesome that they are honoring Betty and your mom!!