Guest post by Andrea Hurley
When someone gets to 95 years old, many usual tasks become difficult or even impossible to do. One of them is getting up after a fall.
The implications can be stark, even life threatening. I’ve learned through a few terrifying experiences with my 95-year old mother, that falling is a matter never to be taken lightly, no matter how harmless it may appear. As a non-elderly person, this is something I (and probably most of us) take for granted. We fall. We get up. Easy. However, this is one area of life where our elderly friends and loved ones are very vulnerable. It is an area of life where the rest of us are needed to respond as if it is life or death—because often it is.
Not everyone knows what to do when faced with an elderly person who has fallen; fortunately, some do.
A couple years ago, I took my mother to church. We sat near the front row behind another elderly woman who was there with a younger woman, maybe in her 30s. I sensed that the younger woman was the caregiver. When my mother got up to go to communion, she tripped over the kneeler and started to fall. Before I even knew what was happening, the caregiver leapt over the pew, and within an eye-blink, brought my mother back to her feet. I realized I never could have done that – not so swiftly anyway. This woman was clearly trained, and very, very strong. To me, she was like an angel arriving at the right moment, instinctively knowing exactly what to do. She not only saved my mother from hurting herself, but she spared my mother the embarrassment of unwanted attention and commotion at church. Like magic, she was there at the right moment, responded perfectly, then leapt back over the pew and quickly returned her focus to her elderly charge. I only caught her eye at the end of mass to thank her. She responded with a simple, but kind, nod.
We were lucky once more, but it took a village.
One summer evening, my mother fell down an entire flight of stairs. Not only did my then 93-year old mother survive the fall, she did without a single fracture. She had a real crack to the head, lost lots of blood, needed about 10 staples, was terribly bruised all over her back, and it took the rest of the summer to recover—but she did. Clearly, she had angels watching over her. Angels in the form of neighbors, who all appeared in the house within about 2 minutes of the fall. There was a collective intelligence at work that night. Everyone did his or her part, the sum whole of which saved my mother’s life. My part was to be with my mother. Comfort her, hold her hand, reassure her, and continue to speak with her. But, it was everyone that saved her, including the ER doctors and nurses. Miraculously she was home in 24 hours. However, it took a village.
When you face into the eyes of a loved-one who is on the precipice of life, and you don’t know if they’re going to make it, something deep inside of you changes. An appreciation for life of a whole other order comes into being, and breaks any remnant of taking life for granted. This was my experience that night and continues to this day. As I look back, it was at this moment that a heightened caregiver instinct came into being.
I realize that not everyone is as lucky as my mother has been. It strikes me how our relationships with our elderly loved ones are probably the most vital part of keeping them alive and safe–not to mention happy! A deeper instinct to care develops when we are willing to let in how vulnerable they are. Only then can we fully see the extent to which we are needed. It doesn’t have to be a life-threatening moment for this instinct to emerge, but just the willingness to open our eyes and see them, see their frailty. In that alone a greater care flowers within us.
Andrea Hurley is co-author of “When the Table Turns”, a philosophical and heartfelt blog about caring for elderly parents. Her essays are an open book inquiry into the table turning in her life, into the continually shifting waters of caring for her elderly mother. The goal is to open up conversations with others who are on this journey. Andrea is also a professional web designer, and founder of web design firm, Elytra Design.