MSW student, Rick Lafrenaye, reflects on his experiences working as a personal caregiver to centenarian, Jim:
“Jim” was shaped like a question mark. His spine arched up and over while the top of his head would droop toward the floor if it weren’t for the great effort he spent holding it up enough to see where he was going. Jim was also a hundred years old and had then in 2004, only recently, needed help with his activities of daily living. The transition didn’t seem difficult for Jim though. He was a child during World War One, an adult during the Great Depression, a Combat Medic in World War II, and had lived through personal losses of wanting but never having had children and the death of his wife some years prior to my becoming his caregiver. In Jim’s 100 years of wisdom and experience, nothing seemed to phase him anymore.
I came to know Jim well over the 3 years that I cared for him in his oceanfront home. A light eater, Jim had a voracious appetite for learning that I found utterly impressive for anyone, let alone a centenarian. I remember thinking that his physical shape was oddly befitting his quiet, inquisitive nature. Jim came to know me well, too. Young, reactionary, unwise, inexperienced, untested; at that time, I was essentially the opposite of Jim.
Jim’s curiosity included asking me about my life and he expressed genuine joy for my little victories, which endeared him to me. However, when I told Jim about my life’s difficulties, he would just nod and chuckle. That chuckle infuriated me!
One early November morning I shared a story with Jim about someone who was unduly causing a good deal of stress in my life that I was having a hard time managing. In fact, I was consumed with the situation; I couldn’t see past it. After clearing Jim’s breakfast dishes and navigating my annoyance at what I thought of as his dismissive chuckle, we climbed into his station wagon and headed for the post office for the mail.
The speed limit on the back-country roads was “about” 55 mph. We were doing all of that when out of nowhere a big flock of wild turkeys ran out in front of the car! Amidst the flapping wings and flying feathers, I thought Jim would have a heart attack! In the split second that I glanced over, I saw a wide smile on Jim’s face, his eyes alight as he said “Weeeeeee!”.
In the years since Jim’s passing, I think I’ve become more responsive and less reactionary; a little wiser and more experienced. Tested. Some of that growth I owe to Jim and lessons like the one I learned in the car trying not to swerve off the road; In life there will always be turkeys that cross our paths. Sometimes it’s best to smile and say “Weeeeeee!”