25 March

The Mansion: Ellen Called Me A “HopeMeister…”

by Jon Katz

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, jon@bedlamfarm.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.


  1. Reading your commentary above on the way life is for the elderly astounded me. I had just
    written the same thing-nearly word for word- which I had thought to send you and then decided against it.
    I live in a HUD senior community. I see and hear the losses you understand on a daily basis. Even my
    daughter does not comprehend why we feel we are warehoused until death, no longer useful. And I do suppose we ought
    to be happy that we have a warm shelter, food, and some of us have our very important pets. Still most of us (and I
    speak mainly for women) have had families and jobs, churches, communities that gave us a reason for our
    existence. We lose friends too often. Some have even lost adult children.
    What you are doing for those in the Mansion is more than admirable. You often refer to yourself as aging–yet your life
    is nothing like many others in their 70s–and still you can feel what they live.
    I am glad I did not send the letter I wrote. You did not need to hear it.
    Thank you.

    1. Cynthia, that is a beautiful and powerful message, I think we all need to hear it and thanks for posting it here.

  2. Great piece! I’m 50 and putting into place the things I need to do (diet, exercise, mindfulness) so that my mind and body don’t fail me later in life. Loss of mind and mobility worsen all of the other challenges older people must face.

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