One of the role models who led me to work with older adults was my late, beloved grandmother, Ruth Cary. Gramma set the standard in terms of aging with grace and dignity. “GG,” as her ten great-grandchildren came to call her, saw every transition as an adventure and an opportunity to grow, to learn, and to deepen her own strong spiritual faith and understanding.
After my grandfather’s retirement, she cared for him as he battled cancer; she moved three times; she organized two extended family reunions; she volunteered at her church; she brought flowers to home-bound elders; she traveled the world; she wrote a book; and she continued to support her six children and their families, in the many ways that we all continue to need our parents long after we’ve left home.
GG let no problem go unchallenged! She used to love to walk, but when she became dependent on using a walker to get around, she packed up her 2-story condo, took up swimming for exercise, and moved to an apartment just a couple of blocks from her church. She made her way there on foot every Sunday. Her route was well planned out, hitting all the curb cuts and including a break in the shade at the halfway point.
Before GG died at the age of 93, she weathered the loss of her life partner, her siblings, almost all of her friends, and even her beloved daughter and caregiver Betsy. Each time, she relied on her faith, her aggressive optimism, her trust in the goodness of this world, her friends, her family, and her own sense of hope for the future. No obstacle ever defeated her, even when things didn’t turn out the way she would’ve liked.
Even during her last weeks, we found her helping one of her hospice aides study for her nursing exam. “I can’t do much anymore,” she told me. “But I can do that. And I can give someone a smile. That’s something I can still do. And that’s something.”
Her last words to me were, “Well… I had a good run!” I miss her, but I couldn’t agree more.