By JIM CURTIS
Do you want to be happy?
Then love someone. Look forward. Do something.
That’s the advice of Gordon Livingston, M.D., author of Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart. Makes sense to me. Just look around at those who seem the happiest and those who seem the saddest. I see it in Mo, the 89 year-old whom I am responsible for providing care. I see it in myself.
Despite all his medical problems and limitations, Mo is most happy when he has a purpose in life. Dr. Livingston opened my eyes to why Mo in the middle of the night bangs around the house, disturbs the sleep of his caregiver, and makes a mess opening and closing doors and drawers to sort through papers and personal belongings. He is working, taking inventory, organizing, making preparation — just like he ran his shop as a tool and die maker for a defense contractor who helped put a man on the moon.
Sometimes when his dementia flares, he awakes and announces to his caregiver, “Hey, babe, get me a cup of coffee. Got to get to work early this morning.”
Loving someone is easy for Mo. He proposed to three caregivers last year. Sometimes he dislikes me because I take away his women. “You be careful, he’s no good,” he said to a caregiver whom I was taking to the grocery store. He bonds to these women because they shower him with attention, tuck him into bed, rub his head and mother him. Once he told me, “I need a woman…someone I can hug in the middle of the night.” I am still trying to solve that problem.
Each Thursday Mo looks forward to Rockin’ Rendezvous, a four-hour dance party at the South Club in Kings Point. He drinks one beer, and I wheel him out on the dance floor. Instantly he is surrounded by woman 20 to 30 years his junior. They take turns showering him with affection, taking his hands and swaying to the music while others dance around his wheelchair. The smile on his face says it all. Occasionally, he gets more than he bargained for, especially as the night wears on and the liquor flows.
“That one woman sat in my lap and kept kissing me. I could have had sex with her right there,” he gushed in astonishment.
Sometimes I have to intervene. Like when one woman is pulling one arm one way and another is pulling the other in the opposite direction. Or when Mo feels the vibes and wants to stand to dance on legs deadened by Parkinson’s disease. He often complains his arms are tired from so much chair dancing.
I tell him I am jealous because all the women pay attention to him. I threaten to use his extra wheelchair to level the playing field. He laughs and asks when we are going to go dancing again. I’ve looked for other venues half-heartedly, unsure I want to commit to two nights a week.
Because Mo is happy, he is thriving. I believe it. His doctor notices the difference, too. I would like to take credit and claim I knew what I was doing. But I didn’t. It just happened. Love, hope and purpose re-entered Mo’s life at a time he needed it most.
When I discovered Mo lying in the parking lot of our condo, he was at his lowest — no friends, no family, no ability to care for himself. He repeatedly ran away from his assisted living facility. He was not getting what he needed. Sure, he had three squares a day and a roof over his head.
As he told me, “I hated it, I felt like I was in jail.” He was depressed and lethargic. He slept about 16 hours a day and watched TV the remaining eight. Institutionalized living can do that. That’s why nine out of 10 people prefer to live at home for as long as possible.
The face of caregiving in this nation is changing. It is not very pretty right now and can seem downright ugly to elders-in-need, family members and to those who work for meager wages to provide the care. It is too expensive, too ineffective and too unsatisfactory. With 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, we will be pressured to find a better way. Change really is the motherhood of invention.
Jim Curtis is the owner of Home Haven. He is certified by the state of Florida to provide homemaker and companion services and focuses on keeping elders-in-need in their homes. Call him at 813-331-3471, or e-mail Jim.Curtis48@icloud.com.