One of my favorite mentors in life was the CEO of a non-profit called Winter Growth. Marge created an adult day care for her master’s thesis.
She used the Camus quote as her guide, In the depth of winter, I found in myself an invincible summer. As an activities assistant at Winter Growth I had the privilege of many continuing education opportunities. Marge had a view of aging that was novel in the early 90’s. She understood that a key element of any life is having a job. She told a story of an old fellow who was seen walking everyday with a pack on his back. Someone decided to help him with his pack by giving him a locker in the bus station. On the second day without his pack, the old fellow’s gait was slower, his smile was missing. When asked what had changed—he said, “I need my pack to have a purpose. Without a purpose, I don’t need to be here.” Needless to say the locker was left empty after the towns person realized the value of the old fellow’s backpack. Marge used that story to explain why every day’s activity programming included some “giving back” activity. Creating a purpose.
A recent interview for long-term care insurance included the question, “do you volunteer?” My husband was baffled by that, what does that have to do with long term care? Well—the research shows that volunteering protects the individual from health decline. The interviewer also asked what hobbies we had. Leisure activity is also protective of health. Underwriters understand this. Do you have a purpose outside of your career? How do you give back?
In my memory care experience there are so many valuable stories of presence. There is the trained veterinarian who spent her life taking care of her parents rather than practicing, until they passed away. At that time she started volunteering at the SPCA and continued until her memory prevented the drive. Now she is her community’s expert on pet care and continues to carry her “backpack”.
There is the wife who reflected on her husband’s change after the war.
“He was never the same.” He had nightmares from being the boatswain who had to order the young recruits out of the boat on Pacific shores with many not surviving the first step. As his wife, she missed the man she married, but she felt honored to have a husband who gave so much. She was able to carry the burden of the memories with him and to be present for him through the nightmares.
There is the captain who chartered boats all his life and now in late-stage dementia is the transport assist for wheelchairs throughout his community. Still being present to his crew. There is the social worker with early onset Alzheimer’s who cajoles, hugs, and wass present for anyone she met.
There are the caregivers, professional and family, who daily are present to assist those who are having mental and physical decline. They are sharing the burden, making caregiving their purpose, their backpack.