No one wants to get old. But it happens, despite how hard we try to fend it off or avoid thinking about it.
We can “age gracefully” or we can resist with fillers and procedures but the outcome is the same; the aging process will not be accommodated.
If we are lucky and healthy enough, we might spend our old age in our own home with the help of family and friends. And that undoubtedly is the greatest hope we all have. But the stark truth of the matter is that more often than not, life’s unpredictable circumstances can take us in directions that are completely out of our control.
My mother, who recently passed away, experienced such an upheaval in her life. After my dad died, she continued to live independently in a small Texas Panhandle town where she attended the church she loved and spent time helping her older sisters and enjoying her humble little house and yard. Then, out of the blue, melanoma struck in the most unexpected and vicious way, and she had to give up all she knew and treasured for an unplanned move to Amarillo.
That was 13 years ago. My mother was a cancer warrior. She endured surgeries, experimental treatment, and last-resort rounds of interferon, beating the cancer back but leaving her once-healthy leg devastated. As her mobility declined, and the demon dementia began its assault, the need for more care was finally unavoidable.
My mother’s last years were spent in an assisted living facility and, finally, in a long-term memory care unit. And this is what I want to share about that experience, from my perspective as her daughter.
The people who work in the long-term care profession are so incredibly unrecognized and underappreciated. It is not easy or always pleasant taking care of the elderly. I am so grateful for the caring, attentive nurses, hospice staff and aides who have the heart to do such challenging and often-emotional work.
I am grateful for the housekeeping staff, the laundry staff and the food service staff for the contributions they make in the life of residents who can no longer cook, clean or do laundry themselves. And I am also grateful for the guidance of administrators and financial counselors who give thoughtful direction on difficult choices families have to make for their loved one. I do not believe a long-term care facility can ever be perfect, but thank goodness for those who are willing to serve and especially for those who stay with us when a life is ending.
Finally, as I said earlier, no one wants to get old. And sadly, so many times we find it hard to look at or be with someone who is old. But I tell you, there are no regrets when you reach out, visit or comfort the elderly. Too many are all alone, without an advocate, and just a smile, a warm touch or a few minutes to listen to a story is so meaningful.
Getting old is hard, no doubt; only love and compassion can make it bearable.
Sherry Kunka is an Amarillo resident.