As We Age: They are full of fascinating life stories

Maple Ridge News columnist Graham Hookey is an educator who write about education, parenting and eldercare.

I spent the Thanksgiving weekend visiting my mom in the retirement home in which she resides in Newfoundland.

I’ve documented in the past my preference that she would choose to live with her family but you can’t turn a life-long, strong-willed person into a compliant ‘we-know-what’s-in-your-best-interest-so-do-what-we-want’ person overnight.

Before my dad passed away, they had made a pact that neither of them would ever burden their children in their old age and while I’m pretty sure my dad might have backed down, given the opportunity, that’s not the nature of my mom. A pact is a pact.

She is comfortable where she is, well cared for and, without a doubt, the fittest resident there She’s got energy and probably 51 of the 52 cards in her mental deck, her short-term memory being the one card that has slipped off the table.  She is frustrated by the fact that the list she made out yesterday is not to be found today, stuffed into some pocket where she was certain it would be easy to find, but has now become a half-day search through every pocket she owns.

While I explained to her that this memory loss is God’s way of keeping her busy all day, she was not entirely amused with that notion.  She wants to feel 100 per cent all of the time.

In some ways, I wish I was around more and could take the time to photograph her neighbours and listen to their stories. The home has about 70 residents, and each one has a thousand stories each.

These are not fading biological entities; they are walking history books, full of fascinating life stories, wisdom and good humour.

Of course, as my mom was quick to point out, you couldn’t tell fact from fiction in some of them, but even if they were fiction, they were well-crafted and probably bore some elements of truth.

There was a miner who injured his back and decided to work in a sawmill instead, only to cut his right hand in half the first week he was there.

There was a woman who raised 11 children while tending the garden and splitting all the fish her husband could catch, but who wore a dress and broach every day of her life and never let a hair get out of place on her head.

There was a woman whose hands are now terribly crippled with arthritis, but bragged of the thousands of socks and mitts she knitted for the soldiers and poor children for much of her life.

My mom has adopted the role of keeping an eye out for some of her co-residents. She makes sure a couple of the ladies near her are out for the meals on time with her gentle prodding. She keeps an eye out for those who are simply standing in a hallway, not sure of where they are going or what they were going to do when they started their journey. She attends every gathering for exercise, or for entertainment, and she does a few laps of the building, inside on poor weather days and outside on nice ones.

I still wish my mom had chosen to live with family, but can understand why she is comfortable where she is.  She is independent and, in fact, has a true sense of purpose in assisting others who are not quite as independent as she is. And, of course, she enjoys linking together the lives of those she meets.

Before social media, there was real memory of who married who, and who were the children and who they married, and there is rarely a conversation in this remote area of the country where common relatives do not eventually emerge and those stories of individual lives converge into stories of entire communities.

It was a fascinating weekend, and I returned home thankful for my blessings and her’s, as one should at this time of the year.

Graham Hookey is an educator who write about education, parenting and eldercare.

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