A writer weaves stories around the people and events in her life, the things she sees and does. For a while, I was afraid that I would forever write stories about Legos and bicycles and Cub Scouts, but eventually all my sons graduated and went off to college. I took on a part-time job as an in-home caregiver for a company that helps elderly or disabled people stay in their home instead of being forced to move into a facility.
The experience was very eye-opening to me. I had never interacted much with people on the other end of the “pro-life” spectrum. They were human, they were alive and they wanted to be treated that way. They did not see themselves as inferior to or less important than people of other ages. I became sensitive to the callous attitudes of the younger generations who say things like, “If I ever get like that, just shoot me.” or “I want to remember them as they were when they were young.”
People in this stage of life are just as precious to God as they were as preborn babies. They often need the same kind of care as a baby – being fed and changed and read to and pushed in a stroller. Babies are selfish and demanding sometimes. They nap and often don’t sleep through the night. The baby can’t communicate or understand our conversation, but the attention is appreciated and indeed necessary for their well-being.
The job suited me. I didn’t have the technical skills to work with medically-complex clients, so I took care of those who just needed daily help. Sometimes I gave them their medications. Sometimes I cleaned house. Frequently, I drove them to the hairdresser, doctor, bank and other appointments. Those acts of service were easy and often rather fun. The people who required that kind of care usually appreciated the company.
One client required much more physical care because she was in fragile health: multiple strokes, heart surgeries and pacemakers, artificial hips, dementia, partial blindness… I lifted her from bed to wheelchair to toilet and back again, preparing meals and helping her to eat. I bathed her, changed her briefs, dressed her in the morning and at bedtime, cleaned her teeth and fixed her hair. I cooked and cleaned the house and provided companionship even when she barely knew I was there. I think she recognized me even when she couldn’t remember my name, and sometimes she surprised me by carrying on short, sensible conversations. It took this kind of service to make me grasp the truth that this woman, in this stage of her life, is exactly where God wants her. He loves her and values her here and now just the same as he did when she was a newborn infant or six years old or when she was a young bride and mother.
Sometimes, I worried more about the other people who lived with the main client. The 93 year old husband of the lady described above caused me more stress than his wife. He still drove. He tottered around with vertigo, so I always worried about him falling, but he was stubborn. I think he was determined to survive because he knew his wife would only have good care as long as he was alive to insist upon it. The rest of the family lived far away and were impatient of Dad’s insistence on remaining at home and keeping Mom there, too, instead of putting her in a nursing home.
Most elderly people – even those in fragile health – don’t need to be confined in nursing homes, but they can’t manage daily life entirely on their own. Having some help makes it possible for them to live in dignity and comfort, in their home. Sometimes they just need to see a friendly face and have their dishes washed or their trash taken out. Light bulbs replaced. Groceries and prescriptions picked up. The batteries changed in the TV remote or hearing aid. Transportation. Their glasses cleaned or their hair washed. Laundry. Sweeping the floor. Changing the bed sheets. If they cannot do these simple tasks, people cannot live alone. Sometimes their needs are more personal but not disabling. Or maybe they would like to have their toenails painted or need help addressing Christmas cards or operating the telephone so they can call their niece in Chicago for her birthday.
This greatest generation has thousands of stories for us. I feel blessed by my experience, and I am using it to create a series of books about these people who shaped the world we know. It’s not historical fiction; these are contemporary novels. The old people are far from perfect, full of human eccentricities. The young people have trouble keeping up! These are engaging stories with humor and mystery and romance. Check back soon!