I never cease to be amazed by the elders with whom we work. I am amazed by their stories, by their wisdom, by their energy and by the way they face challenges, both physical and emotional. Of course, not everyone ages in a way that is “inspirational” but everyone continues to do the best that they can and there is power in that alone.
I’d like to share a few of their stories with you, stories that I hope will move you as they do me. I’ve changed all the names for purposes of confidentiality although all of them have agreed to let us tell their stories. The first story I want to tell you is about a man named Gary. Gary is in his 80’s and was living in the community. He was struggling with Parkinson’s disease and a life that was increasingly limited. He came to the Jewish Home organization as a guest in our “rehab hotel.” That’s a furnished apartment in our assisted living where folks can stay short term and receive therapy services as well as nursing care, help with medications, meals, activities, transportation and all the rest. Often folks come to us from inpatient rehab, wanting more time to recover or after an outpatient surgery when they need a place to rehab and they have not been referred for an inpatient rehab stay. Sometimes, like Gary, they come from the community in need of support, therapy and care. When he came to us, Gary was withdrawn and wheelchair bound. The therapy team helped him start walking again, he began to socialize and make connections and then he became a part of our Rock Steady Boxing program, a community program for individuals with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Gary decided not to return home, he became a permanent resident at Jewish Home Assisted Living and he is living a happier and fuller life. Some of that is a result of our help and much of it is a result of his desire to achieve.
In a similar vein, we have a resident in the nursing home. I will call her Jane. Jane is wrestling with a number of health issues that really make this level of care critical for her wellbeing. Jane always has a smile, she comes to every activity and participates and she asks great questions of any and all of our speakers. Her health issues have caused her to be completely dependent on a wheelchair for the last two years. In October, the Jewish Home Family will be taking our second mission of residents to Israel and Jane decided that she wanted to go.
Not only did she want to go but she is determined to go. She engaged herself with the therapy team and has been working every day to start walking again. And she has been successful. She and her walker are now a familiar sight in our hallways and she continues to work and practice. She told me that she feels that she has her “freedom back” and is so happy and excited about her upcoming adventure. I told her that I admire her, her perseverance, her commitment to setting and achieving her goals.
Matt, a former rehab patient in the nursing home, is a young man struggling with a terminal illness. He lives at home with his sister and is receiving hospice care in that setting. But Matt does not want to be shut in his home, he wants to live every day that he has left. Matt decided to come to the our Adult Medical Day Center and to participate in our special Parkinson’s program. He puts his full energy into boxing, he shares openly with other participants and with staff and he clearly enjoys every moment. His sister reports that he comes home exhausted but he won’t miss a day, won’t miss a moment. His courage and grace inspire all of us.
Our elders inspire us in many ways. But more than that, they teach us that achievement is not limited by age or disease or disability. It’s a life lesson that all of us should take to heart.