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Celebrating Older Americans Month: Shirley

Amber Martin
Published: May 09, 2013


When I first met Shirley in 2008, working as a volunteer for H.O.M.E., she told me she had memory issues. She said she was worried she would eventually get Alzheimer’s like her mother (who Shirley, a long-time certified nursing assistant, was caretaker of at the end of her life).

Today Shirley, 76, can’t remember at times what she just ate for dinner, the name of the place she lives, the faces of her floor-mates. Not only that, she has ever-worsening macular degeneration that could eventually take her sight completely. Her sight is so bad she can’t see half of what’s on the TV and one time even thought a lit hallway “STAIRS” sign was a TV!

“I’m not going to go live with my kids,” says Shirley, a South Side native determined never to be moved to a nursing home and to, instead, finish out her days at the Nathalie Salmon House, residing in what’s lovingly called Shirley’s penthouse suite. “I am who I am and I need to live independently. I don’t like not being able to get around by myself.”

I’ve seen Shirley be frustrated at times to the point of tears. I’ve seen her with anxiety so bad she thought she was having a heart attack and had to be emergency transported to the hospital. I’ve seen her be down and discouraged where she sits and just looks off into space.

But for the vast, vast majority of time, Shirley is an absolute rock of resilience and inner strength through all of her physical and mental trials.

Her sense of humor and ability to laugh at her circumstances, wearing a smile and cheery disposition, makes her a favorite at the house among young and old. It also makes her someone of profound impact and inspiration on people like me who hope to have an ounce of her guts and courage if the turn comes to confront some of her elder-life adjustments.

                                                                                                   -Lisa Leland

We want to hear about the Older Americans who have had an impact on your life. Share your story with us and we may feature it on our website and social network sites. Please email your story and photo to Lorena at

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