An Ode to an Elderly Friend

“Don’t knock me over!” These are her words, delivered with laughter, when she sees me walking into the living room of her little condo, and heading toward her for a hug.

Her hair is smooth, her lipstick carefully applied, and she wears a ceramic rose pinned on her white sweater. Nearby is her walker, a device that she jokingly refers to as her Cadillac.

She lives alone, she is a widow, and she has the typical aches and ailments that accompany the journey of aging. But my friend Rose has discovered the true secret of a happy old age.

She once headed the psychiatric-mental health nursing unit at Emory University, and she has been retired for many years. Still, she has never slowed down. Instead, she has busied herself writing vignettes about the people who work at her senior residence. These are folks too often overlooked: the kitchen help, the clerks and the custodians. For each person, she wrote a little poem expressing her thanks.

But that wasn’t enough. When she turned 94, she took on a new project: She would write the life stories of the people in the personal-care unit upstairs.

“Everyone has a story,” she assured me.

And if you ever thought getting older meant growing gloomy, Rose’s own story will help. She has a cheery cluster of friends – “my support group”– consisting of her former graduate students from Emory. And although she can no longer drive, she happily awaits Cecilia from St. Thomas More Catholic church, who brings her Holy Communion.

In a society that seems to worship the sleek skin and firm figures of the young, Rose is a reminder that life does indeed go on after 50, after 60 — even after 90! She is still serving the Lord in her own way. I often think about her when I read about the health-insurance overhaul, and how taking care of the elderly will be put last on the list.

When I stopped by the other day, Rose eagerly shared her latest poem, which is about aging. In it, she mentioned the typical perceptions people have of older folks. She pointed out how easy it is to judge them based on hearing aids, glasses and walkers.

The poem gently reminds us to look beneath the surface to see the true picture — and it ended with her thanking her heavenly father for all his blessings. It seems the key to successful aging isn’t found in great wealth or abundant health. If you ask my friend Rose, I think she would say, quite simply, “The secret is being thankful.”

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Lorraine’s latest book is “Death in the Choir,” a mystery set at a church in Decatur, Georgia. She will also be welcoming another book on October 6: “Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey.”

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  1. A wonderful reminder. A dear friend passed away earlier this year, shortly after her 94 birthday. She had moved away to be closer to her family and to live in an assisted living facility so we didn’t see her often anymore, but five years ago it was a different story…

    My daughters and I would get together with her on Saturday evenings to chat and play cards and listen to her favorite country music. She had been a kindergarten teacher before retiring, and still quilted and sewed baby blankets despite having horrible arthritis, which she had so bad it was even in her lungs. She was my neighbor when we moved here and was always so friendly and helpful. When she was still driving ten years ago, she and I would bump into each other (literally!) at the supermarket, maneuvering our carts through the aisles. After she stopped driving, she allowed me the use of her driveway and garage in bad weather, as she knew ours can be an icy mess in the winter months. One year, I couldn’t get out but needed a few items from the store. She took what she had, placed it in a plastic bag, and flung it across the ice so it could slide down the hill toward my house. =)

    Even after moving away we could call and visit on the phone. She loved to read and was a member of a book discussion group, and received frequent visits from a young lady who works at the local public library. I know she misses her too.

    God bless you.

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