Yesterday was the annual holiday party at my mom’s care home. I stopped at the bank for crisp bills to put in the Christmas cards I was giving to the staff and arrived a few minutes late. Mom was sitting at a card table with two chairs, wearing a festive red top that was her Christmas gift from the owner of the facility. I kissed her hello and took the seat across from her. Looking around, I was happy to see that no one was sitting alone and each of the residents had at least one visitor with them at their table.
It’s a weird sort of party because the visitors never seem to talk to each other, just to the loved one they’ve come to visit and to the staff. But during dessert, a slightly built older woman approached our table while my mom was in the bathroom. “You’re Dorothy’s daughter, aren’t you?” I nodded and we introduced ourselves, shaking hands. “They tell me your mother is very kind to Jenny and talks to her. Thank you.” I shrugged off her thanks, telling her that my mom is very social and is happy to have someone to chat with.
The woman, who I initially guessed might be Jenny’s sister, shook her head sadly. “It’s so hard to see her like this. Jenny was always so well informed, and now…” She trailed off and I nodded sympathetically. It is hard. The woman went on to tell me that Jenny was a librarian for many years and, back in the 1970s, a labor organizer. “I was the head librarian,” she explained. “She worked for me for many years. After she retired, she worked part-time at the senior center until a couple of years ago.” She further explained that Jenny has no family except two brothers, one in Seattle and the other overseas.
I was touched that she had come to visit Jenny, to share the holiday party with her, despite her apparent discomfort with the dementia that has reduced her articulate, well-informed colleague to a state of childlike dependence. I was struck by, as hard as it is to deal with a parent or grandparent with dementia, how much harder must it be to see a PEER in that state. There but for the grace of God, and all that.
Later, as I was getting ready for my next holiday party, I kept thinking about Jenny who has no family around, no one to look out for her best interests. I don’t have kids, or a husband anymore, so this could well be me someday. It’s a sobering thought. I don’t know how Jenny ended up in this board and care, but I’m glad that she did because I know the staff, and I trust that she’s getting the same good care that my mom gets — even without a daughter to check up on her and advocate for her. Still, she must get lonely. When we get back from our holiday travels, I’m going to make a point to check on Jenny whenever I visit.