I have spent the last few weeks delivering books to the elders who inspired Aging Our Way. With each visit, I continue to learn about the friends I met five years ago. The next few posts will be about these reunions.
Josie was brushing her curly white hair when I knocked on her wide-open door at the nursing home. One of the first things she said was: “The biggest mistake of my 100 years was selling my home and giving all of my things away.”
I reminded Josie that five years ago when we met, one of the first things she had told me was that she might move into an assisted living center. “I love my house, but I am so lonely, and I’m blind, so things are getting harder.” I was amazed at her foresight. She followed her plan a few years later, when self-care was proving difficult, but when a transfer was arranged because she needed oxygen for a period of time, she found herself permanently at a nursing home. Now she was miles away from her church community, friends, and that home she occupied for many years, where she cared for her ailing mother and friends.
Josie, like many childless elders, is among the most at risk for loneliness and isolation in late life. Over the years she has told me heart-breaking stories about living alone and begging nieces and nephews to visit her.
As I read to her from Aging Our Way, she immediately recognized herself, the tough-talking but lonely soul who never married, worked long hours at the railroad, and thrived on close friendships throughout her life. “You really captured me, and I thank you for that,” she said. I thought I saw her eyes get watery. She sighed. “At least I have my grandmother’s bureau and my mother’s dresser here with me,” she said, pointing next to her.
I asked if I could take a picture of her next to her most valuable possessions. She agreed, and held up a picture of her mother and sister. Here is the picture I took: