Ellen won two games at Bingo last week, I was spared the Evil Eye I get when she loses. I had just given her a realistic baby doll, and she was grateful. Ellen doesn’t know my name but she has given me one: “The HopeMeister.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of eat, but Ellen paid me a high compliment, she said I bring “hope” when I come, sometimes I can make dreams come true.
“You bring me hope,” she said. “Something to want and look forward to.”
I know what she means.
So many of the people I meet in assisted care have lost hope, they have become disconnected from their ordinary world and are not sure what to look ahead to or live for. They are no longer workers or part of their families. Many have lost their identity and purpose.
“You can live her and make a life,” Madeline says, “or you can sit here and wait to die.”
In his book In Later Years: Finding Meaning And Spirit In Aging, a book I read to the residents, Bruce T. Marshall writes that in many ways aging is about loss.
Loss is a part of life at every stage.
Children lose teeth, toys. People lose lovers and games and money and jobs. Friendship ends. Teenagers and young people suffer certainty and peace of mind.
But as we grow older, writes Marshall, “the losses escalate.” There are many opportunities for change and renewal and pleasure, but the losses are deeper, more debilitating, more permanent.
The aging leave work behind, lose friends and family, find it hard to navigate movement, illness, memory.
Spouses and close friends and neighbors die, almost in a parade.
There is a loss of independence and control, of freedom of movement, ease of speech and memory, shopping cooking, keeping oneself clean and fed, taking a drive.
But I have learned that what isn’t lost is the ability to hope.
When I bring a large print book for Matt or Wayne. When I buy a slang dictionary for Tim. When I buy stamps or envelopes or a hat for Sylvie. When I get Ellen a doll.
In the narrowing, sometimes cloistered world of the elderly, a new pair of shoes in the Spring brings hope. Asking for help and getting brings hope. Seeing a dog brings hope.
With each small act of kindness from our Army of Good comes hope. A wristwatch that works. Underwear that is clean. A reading light for a book. Warm pajamas. A bra that fits. A letter from a new friend. Meditation lessons, stories to listen to.
The world can take so many things away from the elderly. But hope can always be felt and restored, can always be a part of life. So that, I think, is my job, with your help.
I am proud to be a “HopeMeister.” It’s the best job title I ever had.
If you wish to support this work, you can contribute via Paypal, email@example.com. You can also send a check to Jon Katz, The Mansion Fund, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. Please mark it “Mansion Fund.” And thanks.