these details become precious when
a family member can no longer speak
for him- or herself. When an elder
can’t communicate, “it’s like when a
library burns to the ground,” Thomas
says. “You’re losing access to information that right now can seem not that
relevant. But at the moment of crisis, it
will help you be an advocate.”
A few weeks after bringing Doris to
Sugar Land, Paige was visiting her
mother in the rehabilitation center’s
garden. Still in a wheelchair, but sitting up straight, prettily dressed and
smiling, Doris had clearly improved.
Red pentas and lavender petunias
flowered in heaps around her. A pair
of grackles fussed in the grass.
When it was time to leave, Paige
looked around fretfully. Even to
her critical eye, the facility looked
nice. In one corner a woman read
aloud from a book to a half ;dozen
residents. In the dining room, classic jazz wafted over diners, four to
It was an environment Paige herself wouldn’t have minded if she
were in Doris’s position. In addition
to the rehab center, which Doris no
longer needed, the facility included
an assisted living option for patients
with a wide range of abilities.
But Doris wanted something different. And that got Paige thinking.
A rental property she owned had just
gone vacant, and Paige began talking
with a niece, a stay-at-home mother
To the daughter’s critical eye, the
facility looked nice. But her mother
wanted something different.
the flowers and the birds, seemed to
rejuvenate Doris. But she was still
fragile, Paige saw: Though the center was pleasant, Doris could never
Born in a generation accustomed
to hardship, Doris tended to be laconic about her needs. Paige, for her part,
had never thought of quizzing her.
Today, though, she decided to ask.
“What do you need to feel happy,
Mother?” she asked.
Doris paused to think. “Getting up
early,” she answered. “Going out to
my porch and seeing people coming
and going. Hearing the birds. Speak-
ing to people.”
“What do you want to be able to
Doris replied promptly. “With sea-
“What kind of people do you want
to be around?”
“Babies, grandkids, adults. I want
to hug people,” Doris said. Reso-
lutely, she added: “And I wish I could
feed someone, take care of them.”
of a 3-year-old son, about living there