At our monthly Elders Lunch (held on zoom the second Friday each month from 12 noon to 1 p.m.), Rev. Sharon shares a reading from the book In Later Years: Finding Meaning and Spirit in Aging by Bruce T. Marshall, a Unitarian Universalist minister. The following are excerpts shared at our April Elders Lunch. The theme of this chapter is “Help.”
Maybe offering help is simpler—and more difficult—than I had thought. Maybe it doesn’t have to involve solving problems for people or answering all their questions….Maybe what helps is more a matter of forming a connection with another person. Maybe it’s being present, listening, valuing that individual. Maybe that is how we help. (p. 71)
Rita D, who is 88, spoke of how she helps a neighbor in her retirement community who is experiencing mild dementia. Rita looks out for her, helps her keep track of everyday activities, is available in case of emergency. “I have a neighbor down the hall who moved in at the same time I did and she now, well, she has had some senior senility and it’s getting worse, and I am concerned about her. I’ll call her in the morning to make sure she remembers to meet me at a certain time and where we’re going. She resents any help, but she needs it. Even eating with her, she has the shakes and so she can’t really eat her soup. I ask them to bring it in a cup rather than a bowl because she never thinks to ask. You know, little things like that.” She also has telephone numbers for the woman’s children so they can be informed of anything that raises concerns.
Rita admits that helping this neighbor can be exasperating, particularly because she is very independent and resists help. She said,
She had a heart attack, walked around for a week, her arm was sore. I asked, “Is it getting better?” “No.” “Have you gone to the doctor?” “Well, it’s fine.” So finally, after a week, I called the daughter and told her. They came over, took her to the doctor, and she’d had a heart attack. She has a pacemaker now, but she’s in denial about what she can and cannot do. I try to be a caregiver just to that extent. I mean, I’m not with her every day. We don’t eat together every day, but she knows I’m here and if she has a question she calls me. People here know about her. And when you talk to her, you realize it. She’s not quite all there. It could happen to me. It could happen to anybody, so I try to be tolerant.
How can we help? In this case, Rita is present for her friend….Those small actions are significant for this woman at this stage of her life. (pp. 77-79)
Presence has value. Witness has value. When you stand with another person even during hard times, you affirm that person’s worth. Your being there might not change that person’s life, but it matters. It is enough (p. 86)