This week when I visited my lively 83-year old aunt in rehab, I was astounded by something she said. Rehab had been an amazing, uplifting experience that had changed her life. Considering how much she had dreaded the rigorous exercises and time spent away from home, I was surprised by her change of heart. But it was not for the reasons you might expect. In fact, it had little to do with mending bones or learning preventative measures to keep her from falling again. She had discovered a new perspective on older adults, which may seem odd considering she is an octogenarian herself.
She told me about another rehab patient, a woman who seemed confused when people tried to talk with her. Usually this woman sat alone in her wheelchair with her shoulders slumped and eyes to the floor. My aunt explained that, prior to her experience in rehab, she would have been afraid to initiate a conversation with anyone in this state. On this day though, she took a risk. She rolled herself over to the woman and commented on her sweater which had red cardinals stitched on it. The woman’s eyes brightened as she lifted her head at my aunt’s mention. Soon the woman was telling a story about how she had been known as the red-bird lady and how she had cared for them at her home. However small, however brief, a connection had been made.
My aunt also told me about a man whose chin sagged to his chest as he sat in a wheelchair in the dining room. She described him as a patient who rarely had visitors and who seemed depressed. Deciding that it would be more comfortable if a male befriended him, she urged another patient, an elderly man, to strike up a conversation with him. Later as she headed back to her room, she got a thumbs-up from the man who had reached out to the first. The next day, she saw them talking again like old friends.
Admittedly, my aunt is likely the most active senior on her floor. When I asked her what caused her to think anew about her more frail counterparts, she graciously credited my book with providing her a better understanding of the inner thoughts of those who are struggling with physical and mental decline. But it was rehab that gave her an up-close, personal view of the realities of aging. And it was God who gave her new purpose.