“Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.” -Henry David Thoreau
This is my Mum.
Today she’s retiring from her position with an elderly services agency in the Greater Boston area. She worked there for 19 years, but has devoted her life to serving the elderly.
Beginning at the age of 10, Mum walked a mile to and from the supermarket, then up a flight of stairs to bring groceries to an elderly neighbor who was not well enough to leave her house.
My mother’s first job was working as a volunteer at a nursing home in Boston. I call it her first job because what Mum did as a volunteer is what Certified Nurse Aides (CNAs) get paid to do in nursing homes today.
She made beds, cleaned rooms, and spent time with the residents playing cards, chatting and smoking cigarettes (smoking was allowed in nursing homes at that time. It was the ’60s- anything went).
Mum once told me a story about giving a cigarette to a patient after he begged her to. He wasn’t supposed to smoke for health reasons, but Mum gave him a cigarette anyway. She felt that it was pointless to deny such a simple request from a man who wanted to live his remaining days on his own terms. And she was right- it didn’t do the man any harm to have one cigarette.
While Mum was able to stay home with my brothers and I, she would have never called herself a “Stay At Home Mom.” Day after day, she carted my brothers and I, neighbor kids, and kids on my Dad’s soccer team to and from all sorts of activities. She also volunteered to assist with our school and extracurricular activities. I think being a Mom was her favorite job.
In addition to caring for three kids and her several “adopted” kids, Mum also took on the role of caregiver for several of our elderly relatives and neighbors- assisting with groceries, paperwork, and funeral arrangements when they passed.
Most notably, she cared for her mother, who had Alzheimer’s disease. It was brought to Mum’s attention when my Nana paid her rent three times in one month.
Mum balanced caring for her kids and mother with Alzheimer’s with the utmost grace.
I was in grade school when Nana began experiencing Alzheimer’s symptoms. Around this time, Mum taught me an important lesson about treating the elderly with dignity and respect.
“If Nana asks you the same question more than once, just answer it. Don’t tell her that she already asked- she won’t remember you correcting her and it will only make her feel bad,” she said.
I’ve seen people who become frustrated with loved ones who have Alzheimer’s. It’s an incredibly difficult disease, and it’s sad to watch your loved one go through that.
Mum accepted what was happening with Nana and rolled with the punches. She answered Nana’s repetitive questions like she was being asked for the first time. She casually reminded Nana about things without making her feel forgetful or stupid. Eventually, she stopped by Nana’s apartment each day, making sure she ate lunch, took her pills, and had something to eat for supper (As Nana’s Alzheimer’s progressed, she sometimes forgot to eat).
When Mum reentered the workforce, she ordered Meals on Wheels for Nana. The midday meal was a visual reminder for Nana to eat, and the volunteer driver was a friendly face who could check on Nana during the day while Mum was at work.
A few years later, a job opened up in the nutrition department of the agency that coordinated Meals on Wheels for the area. It was the perfect fit for Mum. For 19 years, she has coordinated Meals on Wheels for a large service area, often delivering meals herself when drivers weren’t available, and making sure people without any food at home received a meal when Nor’Easters hit the Greater Boston area.
Although it took up more time than she would have liked to have spent at the office each day, Mum chatted with elderly clients whom she knew had no one else to talk to. Sometimes that was the only reason they called her office- not to order or cancel meals.
The elderly can be a difficult bunch to deal with. They have less tolerance for fake people or BS. Mum was respected and admired by even the grouchiest of elderly clients because she took the time to listen and genuinely cared. She also lent an ear to stressed caregivers because she understood how it felt to be in their position: balancing work, kids and caring for elderly parents.
Mum taught me to not only be good, but to be good for something. She also taught me compassion and how to treat others- with dignity and respect. That is the greatest gift she could give me. I hope that I can be at least half as giving and caring as she is.