As Neighborhood Falmouth celebrates its 10th year of serving the seniors of Falmouth, it seems like a good opportunity to reflect on some of what I have seen in my time with the organization.
Here’s a little of what I have learned:
Our members are laugh-out-loud funny. Without a doubt, the person who immediately comes to mind is Ruth. Whenever Ruth calls in to request a ride to the hairdressers or the dentist, she tells me that it’s critically important for her to look good… because (heartthrob actor) Matthew McConaughey may drop by any moment and she wants to be ready. She also gave me her husband’s famous eggnog recipe. Its combination of sherry, rum, rye, heavy cream, milk, sugar and egg yolks frankly worries me. But, apparently, it made for some very festive family holidays back in the day!
These seniors are loving and loyal. I realize that I must have been a little prejudiced or sexist to assume that women were more devoted caregivers than men. Ridiculous. I watched Dick, Manny, Jerry, and Tom each spend days sitting at the bedside of their wives in their final years and days. Their steadfast kindness and dedication to their partners have been quietly fierce and loyal, loving and devoted. I see women, too, care for their men and for single women friends without fanfare or complaint. It is a model for me of how I want to be, or if I am lucky, how someone might be for me.
They are usually understanding when things don’t go as planned. I have rarely seen anyone be unkind or impatient when things go awry. One time—a rare time, thankfully—I had to tell a member, Barbara, that we had not found a ride for her. She was completely understanding. When I thanked her for not being angry, she said to me, “You don’t get to be my age without learning to be flexible.“
Many worry about “being a burden” or “asking for too much.” Several years ago before I became involved with NF, an elderly Falmouth friend, Marion, told me that it was the time in her life to be on the sidelines. She had spent years at the center of life as a child, then married, and raised a family. But now her children are grown, with kids of their own, and as the natural course of things, she was quietly moving to the side. She said she didn’t resent this (I was surprised by this analysis, and by her lack of resentment), but she understood that she was not the most important person anymore.
That conversation has stayed with me. There was an honesty, a reality, in her words, and yet I chafe at the idea that an elder’s life is in any way “less” than someone else’s. To me, it’s just different. With a different pace, and different priorities. One of the great pleasures in being a part of Neighborhood Falmouth is the chance to help seniors remain independent, in charge, and at the center of their own lives. Acceptance and independence can blend together.
They have faced sadness in ways I hadn’t expected. One surprise for me in meeting so many Falmouth seniors is the number of individuals who have lost a child. When I first meet a prospective NF member, it is in their home, and the conversation naturally turns to family. Typically there is an array of framed photos of children, grandchildren, and family gatherings. Probably a quarter of the time I learn that a child or adult child had died, sometimes long ago. I had thought that was a rarity. And it has nothing to do with the opioid crisis. There were accidents and illnesses, and it’s not a one in a million. It happens more often than I ever knew. There is a natural poignancy in this and a sweetness in watching this child be remembered as part of the story of one’s life.
They have seen a world I never knew. Some NF members are foreign-born, others are Falmouth-born. One lived on a Native American reservation as a young scientist. Too many lost loved ones in Nazi war camps. I have heard stories of World War II, and of local doctors who continued care when insurance would not cover it. Several in our community had careers of great importance while at the same time, most have led fairly “typical” lives. Now, at an advanced age, many have lost a spouse or friends, and cherish the new, younger friendships that NF creates. It is a privilege to hear the stories of these elders. NF volunteers often tell me how lucky they feel to have met NF seniors, and heard their stories. I feel that, too.
When I started my tenure at Neighborhood Falmouth, I expected that this still-young organization would be a help to older Falmouth residents. I knew that we recruited volunteers to fill member requests. This often meant transportation but might include other things from going for a walk or taking out a storm window to picking up groceries or handwriting a few Christmas cards.
When Karin and Ken Bohr, NF’s first co-executive directors, were training me, Karin paused and said, “I think you are going to find this work very rewarding.” At the time, I was solely focused on learning how to get the newsletter done! I brushed off the comment with a smile and a “That would be nice.” It took a few weeks to realize that I have never felt the deep satisfaction and deep connection to the people I was meeting, both members and volunteers, that I felt doing this work. And that was after working nearly 30 years in the nonprofit sector.
Every day I am touched, amused, and inspired by my interactions with our members. I am shown how to age with grace and dignity and truly, how to live day by day. I know that NF volunteers feel the same way. And members reap great friendships and connection with volunteers.
I know Neighborhood Falmouth is making an incredible difference in the lives of the people we serve. It is an honor to be a part of it.
Happy 10th birthday, Neighborhood Falmouth. Here’s to many more.