There is a bond between younger and older single women that is very special and needed. In my five years with H.O.M.E. I’ve been blessed to have had the friendship of a number of female seniors who were without spouses.
They have encouraged, inspired and molded me, especially by example through their strength amidst adversity (everything from diabetes and arthritis complications to full-blown Alzheimer’s and renal failure). No matter what was going wrong in their own world, they always gave me a caring, attentive ear, wanting to provide me with real-life wisdom and guidance. I was just fortunate that I was able to be of help to them too.
With one of these women, 97-year-old Rosalie, I was literally at her bedside, holding her hand just before she stopped breathing and was, minutes later, determined by a hospice nurse to have passed away.
Only a few months earlier I had been in the E.R. with Rosalie just after she’d fallen down in her bedroom and split her head open, losing a tremendous amount of blood for someone as fragile as her. She really thought she was a goner! She even said, half-kidding, "I want to die but not this way."
A week later when I visited her at the nursing home she was sent to for rehab, she really did appear close to death. She was so weak she couldn't even lift her head to show me her new haircut (after they shaved part of her scalp for the stitches). She had trouble keeping even one eye open.
She reminded me that day that she felt a special connection to me from the minute we met and I told her I did too. She then told me again, as she often did, how pretty I was and that I was a beautiful person inside as well as outside.
What I loved about Rosalie was her unique sense of style, spunk, independent fierceness and up-front humor. It was her childlike boldness and honesty that most grabbed the affection of young and old alike.
Perhaps it came from all her clean living—she never drank, smoke or ate junk food and was an avid tennis player into her 70s. She didn’t like swearing and, although a good historian of old movies and old movie stars, cringed at cinematic violence or sex scenes.
In general, Rosalie, who was proud to tell you she attended Hebrew school as a child, had a terrific memory and keen sense of awareness, especially for her age, and was a treasure-trove of facts from the past (none of them glossed over or cleaned up) guaranteed to make you go, “Wow, I had no idea . . .”
Among a lot of fond memories of her, I remember the night several years ago when I was able to sit with her on her bed and calm her after she’d had a scary spell in which she was gasping for air and shaking uncontrollably.
Her symptoms dissipated markedly as we sat together and, talking to her, I got her to talk back and she was soon even able to laugh, ever so weakly, on occasion.
The next morning, Rosalie complained of being very weak and having an upset stomach. I asked her if she might like chicken noodle soup (a favorite of hers) and a piece of toast for lunch. By dinner, she was back to her old self and engaging in a lively after-dinner conversation with other residents about racism against Jews and Chicago history.
May is Older Americans Month, as we celebrate the lives of older Americans who have had an impact on the lives of so many, we recognize the difficulties they face in maintaining their independence. Consider donating in honor of an older American who had an impact on your life and remember to celebrate them everyday.