With friends, childless won’t die alone

Sally CarrSally Grant Carr seemed to be everywhere. If there was a gallery opening, a rally for peace, a singalong, or a poetry reading, she was there with her big glasses and fluffy white hair. So when about 30 friends gathered Sunday at Café Mundo to celebrate her life, it felt odd that she wasn’t among us.

Sun beamed through the big windows and skylights, lighting up the art on the walls and hanging from the ceiling as people from the various facets of her life settled at the wooden tables in the quirky tree house-like restaurant where Sally used to hang out. Many of us had not known that she died on April 1 until the notice for the Celebration of Life appeared online at newslincolncounty.com. What? Sally gone? No, where is she really?

But a small circle of friends who had sat by her hospital bed around the clock as she finally gave in to a lifelong lung condition were all too aware. Wouldn’t the hospital refuse to let you into intensive care, I asked. Wouldn’t they refuse to tell you anything? One of those friends, a tall woman with a booming voice, said she informed the hospital staff that Sally had no family, and her friends were coming in, whether they liked it or not. “They told us everything,” she said.

Sally’s parents died in a car accident when she was 18. She was married a long time ago, but the marriage ended. She left her home in Connecticut to start fresh on the west coast. She had no children, no siblings, no family at all. The people of Newport, Oregon became her family. That happened because she reached out. She cared. A graphic designer by trade, she got involved at local art galleries, worked with a local book publisher. She came to our monthly writers’ gatherings (and she bought all of my books). She got together with friends for a weekly happy hour party. If she was lonely, she didn’t complain about it.

Friends said she liked to go on late-night drives, loved to watch the moon and stars. She also loved to talk, a brief call or visit often going late into the night.

Perfect? No, she was goofy and sometimes annoying. But now that she’s gone, we miss her.

I last saw Sally at a meeting at the senior center for people who live alone. The object was help us connect with each other and with resources for help. I remember Sally being more concerned about other people’s worries than her own. I suspect that she was somehow involved in that Secret Santa box that arrived on my doorstep shortly before Christmas.

We talked about getting together, but we never did. We should have. I’m not good at reaching out the way Sally was. Now she’s gone. Lesson learned. Take a deep breath and call, text, email, something.

It was a cheerful gathering, full of love for Sally and for each other, now that she has brought us together. We shared our memories, ate cake, and took home photos. Sally was not religious, so there was no church service. I don’t know what happened to her body. I’m sure she had something arranged.

The one jarring note: Her will, written in the 1970s, did no good because everyone named in it died before she did. The state of Oregon is taking over her estate. Can they do that? Yes, they can. Read this. Get your paperwork in order, and keep it up to date. If you end up with no family, you can leave your money and possessions to friends or a favorite charity. Make your wishes known.

Those of us without children worry about ending up alone. That doesn’t have to happen. Not if you have friends. I recently read a book titled One’s Company: Reflections on Living Alone by Barbara Holland. This upbeat, often funny book published in 1992, offers everything from how to make a proper cocktail to how to attract lovers. One of the comments that sticks in my mind is about the value of friends. Children, she notes, are only with us temporarily. In the end, it’s better to have one true friend. Think about that. So often our friends are the ones who really know us, who show up when we need someone.

Sally had friends.

Something to think about as you agonize over whether you’ll be alone if you never have children, especially if your partner divorces you or dies. You’ll be okay.

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We have gotten some great comments on last week’s post about foster-adoption. Keep ’em coming.

 

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Who will sit by my hospital bed?

After a busy day of playing music for a funeral—lovingly arranged by the deceased’s grown children and grandchildren, having lunch with a friend in her 30s who has no interest in marriage or children—“I honestly don’t like kids”—and playing the piano for a Saturday evening Mass at which my three singers were all older women whose lives are completely wrapped around their offspring, I received a text message that upended my life.

My father fell on March 25 and broke his leg. It was a bad break, above the knee on the same leg where he broke his hip three years ago. When I first got the text from my brother that Dad was in the ER getting x-rayed, I hoped it was for something minor like a broken finger. No such luck. It was a bad break, requiring surgery, and Dad is less than a month away from turning 95. We don’t know whether it will heal properly. He expects to return to living on his own in the house where we grew up, but that seems unlikely at the moment. Thank God he had his cell phone in his pocket, or he might still be lying on the kitchen floor.

I spent the last week in San Jose, California, mostly sitting by his hospital bed listening to him talk and interacting with doctors, nurses and aides. My brother was there for the first three days, but he had to go home and back to work. My schedule is a bit more flexible. I was the one helping Dad transition from the hospital to a care home where he will continue to recover and work with physical therapists to get moving again. Right now he’s pretty much confined to his bed. While I was there, I could fetch the phone, the urinal, his glasses. I could run out to get help when no one responded to his call button (all too often).

When not with Dad, I was at the house, cleaning years of gunk off every surface, collecting the mail, paying bills and answering phone calls, emails and texts. It’s a house full of memories. Many of my mother’s things are still there, although she has been gone almost 15 years. In the mornings, I sat in her chair by the front window and wrote. In the warm afternoons, I sat in the back yard in the patio that my father built, looking at the lawn he planted and the sidewalk he put in around 1950. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the house now, but I’m anxious to take care of it. Hard to do when I have my own house 700 miles away in Oregon.

I’m the daughter. It’s my job to drop everything to help my father when he falls. Walking up and down the halls of the care home, I see other daughters and sons doing the same thing. One can’t help but wonder who will do this for me. My brother, yes. If he’s alive and able. My friends? Maybe, but not to the extent that my brother and I have been doing. My niece and nephew? I don’t see them helping their grandfather; would they really help me?

I pray that I will never be in Dad’s situation. Nursing homes are not fun. Hospitals are not fun. If I do wind up in such a place, I hope I will have enough money to pay for extraordinary care. I may have to depend on the kindness of strangers.

It helps to have children, but as everyone says, even if you have kids, you can’t count on them to help. Even if they want to, they may live far away like my brother and I do. Today as I type this, Dad is at the mercy of the staff at the care home because we both had to go back to work. We just pray the professionals are kind and efficient and know what they’re doing.

Dad was doing the dishes when he fell, breaking his leg and hitting his head on the wall on the way down. Here in our community, a young woman named Tracy Mason was driving to work early one morning last month when a truck slammed head-on into her car. Almost every part of her is broken. She has lost part of her vision, is struggling to keep her left leg. One minute she was having an ordinary day; the next she was helpless in a hospital bed in Portland. Everything can change in an instant.

If you don’t have children, start cultivating relationships with friends and family members. Arrange the paperwork so they can help you if something happens. And make sure you have good insurance. Then enjoy today as it is, however it is. If you are able to walk, talk and take care of yourself, life is good.

Thank you for your patience with this slightly off-topic post. It has been a long week and a half. If you’re into praying, I’d welcome your prayers for my dad and for Tracy.

As always, I welcome your comments.

 

 

Being childless does not mean you’ll end up alone

When you reach a certain age, your parents get old and need help. Unless they die young, it’s going to happen. When my mother was dying in 2002, she had my father. I traveled back and forth from Oregon to San Jose to help, and I was at her side with Dad when she died. My brother and I helped plan her funeral, but Dad was the main caregiver.

For 11 years, my father has lived alone. He has two kids, but my brother lives three hours away, near Yosemite, and I’m 13 hours away on the Oregon coast. When Dad broke his wrist, I didn’t even know about it until after his surgery was over. He took care of himself afterwards. Ditto for his cataract surgery and getting a Pacemaker to keep his heart beating. He’s a strong and independent man. But now his heart is failing, and I have dropped everything t help mim. He may or may not have open heart surgery soon. Right now, he’s pretty good sitting down, but if he does anything, even walking across the yard, he turns white and struggles for breath. He needs help, so I’m here. My brother comes on weekends. We’ll be here for whatever happens.

But you and I, dear reader, don’t have children. Who will help when our health fails? Yes, we have all heard that people who do have kids can’t count on them. We know about old people in nursing homes whose children never come around but in most families, the children are there to help their parents.

So what do we do? Looking at a future alone can be frightening. My stepchildren won’t be around if I go to the hospital or get too weak to buy my own groceries and wash my own clothes. If i have money, I can hire someone to help, but that’s not the same.

Perhaps there are clues in what’s happening now. While I’m away, my friends in Oregon are taking care of things up there. Jo is tending my dog. Mary Lee and Jessie are filling in for me with music at church. Pat, who is my emergency contact with my doctors, is collecting my mail and sending the bills and other important things to me. She’s the one who drove me to the hospital and sat with me before my cataract surgery and the one who drove me to Albany in the dark when my husband died. Other friends brought food, cleaned my house and made sure I wasn’t alone.

You can’t count on children, but you can count on friends, as well as siblings, cousins and other relatives. And your spouse, of course if you have one. If you feel like no one will be around in a crisis, make some connections now, and agree to be there for each other when things get tough.

It might be nice to have children to take care of us, but there’s a world of other people to turn to if we just look around.

What do you think? Do you worry about ending up alone with no one to help? I look forward to your comments

NOTE: I don’t have an Internet connection at my Dad’s house, so I may not be able to approve your comments until I can steal away to a coffee shop or wherever I can find WiFi, but I will get to them, and I look forward to reading what you have to say.