Friday, June 8, 2012

Life is a Gamble

I often take prospects on tours through our community.  Yesterday a woman about my age came to inquire about placing her mother with us.  As we wandered through the activity area, a group of residents were playing beach ball volleyball.  The noise and laughter were contagious.  My visitor was amused.  “They’re having fun,” she smiled.  I shook my head in agreement.

A few minutes later, seated in my office, she said, “I wonder how I’ll behave when I reach their age?”  I laughed out loud.  “I think everyone that works here asks themselves that same question--every day.  It is so very hard to predict just how we’ll accept getting old. “

“ I joke a lot.   Some days I assume I’ll be an exemplary resident; on the more trying days I am determined I’ll be the community terrorist. Regardless, I’m convinced one survives the process much easier with a positive attitude.  If you’re able to accept the changes that take place physically and mentally, you’ll be happier and more content.  I’m convinced it is all about attitude.”

As I spoke, the memory of a former resident flashed through my mind. She was a perfect example of how a positive half-full, not half-empty attitude, can affect the quality of one’s life.

Millie was not as chronologically old as many of our residents.  She was only in her late seventies. The majority of the residents living in the community were somewhere in their mid to high eighties.  Millie had Parkinson’s disease; her body was disfigured.  The muscles in her hands quivered, and her face was contorted by sporadic tremors.  Every physical movement was tedious and painful.  The disease ravaged her limbs and torso, but it never diminished her spirit. 

Millie was an inspiration to me, to her fellow residents, and to the team that assisted with her care.  She was a Jewish transplant from New York.  She spoke with that familiar New York accent, and although she missed New York, she was content to live in South Florida as she was close to her kids.

In the two years that I knew her, I never heard Millie complain.  She had good and bad days.  When the pain distracted her, she didn’t share her distress, but her eyes lost their sparkle.  She became quiet and less cheerful as she struggled to keep her discomfort to herself.

Millie, in spite of her disease, was a character.  She loved to tease the staff and the other residents.  She had trouble talking because her mouth and tongue were slightly distorted, but she continued to say things that made everyone chuckle.  She loved to surprise her peers with a clever or risqué remark, and she giggled joyfully when they reacted with obvious embarrassment.

Millie seldom missed an activity or an outing.  She enthusiastically attended the exercise class every morning.  She struggled with the repetitive movements, but she determinedly worked until the class ended.   When the life-style director took the more adventurous residents outside the community on weekly excursions (out to lunch, to the beach, and for picnics in the park), Millie was always happy and ready to go.  She had difficulty getting on the bus. She had to pull herself up the stairs, slowly and carefully using only her arms, but she was determined she would not be left behind.  I admired her gumption.  There were residents in the community who had few to no disabilities that seldom left their apartments.

Millie did have one amusing addiction.  She loved to gamble.  Every other month, a group would go to the casino just a few miles from the community.  Millie was first on the bus and the last one to board on the return trip.  Some months she won, and some she broke even, but I don’t remember her ever coming back in the red.   One afternoon I was in my office when I heard a hubbub of loud happy voices in the lobby.  Curious, I went to see why everyone was so excited.  There was Millie, surround by residents and staff, beaming and smiling from ear to ear.  She had won a $1000 at the slot machines.  I had joined in the excitement of congratulations when a resident turned to me and said, “She’s so lucky.”  “No,” I answered.  “She’s not lucky.  God is just smiling on one of his angels.”