■ By Dolly Baxter / Contributed
I decided to spend time with a senior citizen named Peggy who lives in a senior community for my observation report. She is a 91 year old woman who is recently widowed after 65 years of marriage and lives alone. She has a caregiver named Delores who comes in to help her three days a week, but for the remainder of the week she is alone. I chose Peggy to observe because she lives in the same community as my great aunt and I wanted to observe the behaviors of someone who used to live with a loved one for so long to then suddenly live alone.
I spent three days with Peggy. At first, we got acquainted and I asked her if she was okay if I spent some time with her and asked some questions. She let me know that she was glad I was there and informed me she was pleased to have the company. She also said that she had very few visitors.
The first day I spent with Peggy was four hours on a Monday. Her caregiver Delores was also with us the first half of the morning. She made Peggy breakfast around 8 a.m., gave her medicine, and then cleaned up the house. Peggy seemed to be in high spirits laughing, smiling and enjoying the conversation. She mentioned a few times throughout the day that she wished her two sons Danny and Steven would visit more often.
Around 10 a.m. that morning, Delores left to go pick up Peggy’s medicine at the pharmacy. I noticed that Peggy seemed to get nervous. She asked Delores how long she would be because she didn’t want to miss her lunch. She also started to mumble something to herself I couldn’t quite make out and fidget with her hands. After Delores left, Peggy told me a lot about her life. That seemed to calm her down a bit. She told me about when she was younger how she used to volunteer at the Hemet Hospital. That’s where she met her late husband Ronald and also where she delivered her two sons.
Peggy’s energy relaxed and she rocked in her chair and even starting humming a little. Showing me pictures of her family brought a smile to her face and mine as well. When Delores returned from her trip to the pharmacy she fed Peggy lunch and I went home.
The next time I went to visit Peggy was on a Tuesday which was Delores’s day off. I arrived around 8 a.m. and Peggy was making herself breakfast. I asked her if she always made herself such a large breakfast and she said not since her husband passed away but she missed serving people at her table. I ate breakfast with her and asked what it was like living alone now, after living with her husband for so long. She paused for a moment and I instantly regretted asking such an intrusive question. But when she finally answered she looked up to me and said; “Honey, at first I didn’t know how to go on, how to just take care of myself and not have anyone depending on me. But life goes on and I depend on me and now days that just has to be enough.”
Peggy had a strength in her voice when she said that with her chin held high.Then she got up and walked out of the room. When she returned she had a co-dependency (Al-Anon) book with her. She handed it to me and asked me too turn to the date and read the daily reflection out of the book. So I turned the page to Sept. 12 and read the passage out loud. After I had finished reading it, Peggy informed me that whenever she is feeling alone she reads from this or her bible and is reminded that God is always with her and she is never truly alone. We spent hours going through old photos and listening to recordings of her and her family singing on an old cassette player. After a while, she then got up and made two ham sandwiches. We ate lunch together and then both cleaned up the kitchen.
After spending the two days with Peggy I realized how different she was on both days. The first day she seemed very dependent on her caregiver Delores. Even worrying she wouldn’t eat lunch if Delores wasn’t back in time. She was also relying on her caregiver for her medicine and cleaning the house.
She talked a lot about being lonely and wishing her family would visit more when Delores was there. On Tuesday, the day without her caregiver, Peggy seemed to be more independent. Making not just herself breakfast and lunch, but me as well. The difference in her personality over the two days I visited with her really intrigued me. So I asked her if it would be okay to come back the next day. I was curious to see if she had the same behaviors on Wednesday as she did on Monday.
On the third day I went back at 10 a.m. after Peggy had already had her breakfast. I wanted to spend half the time with her while Delores was there and the other half after she had gone home. When I arrived, Peggy was sitting in her Lazy Boy chair, drinking tea and reading one of her books. Delores was in the other room cleaning the bathroom. Peggy looked at peace and very calm with the footrest pulled up and her legs stretched out. When Delores had finished cleaning the bathroom she joined us in the living room. Peggy asked her “What’s for lunch? I would starve without you.” She smiled and winked at me and let out a little giggle. After a couple hours Delores went home for the day, and I finally got a chance to ask Peggy the questions I’d been pondering about all morning.
I asked her why she told Delores she would starve without her when the day before she seemed to have enjoyed making us breakfast and lunch. I also noted that she did it with very little effort and looked very capable of doing it herself. She then smiled with a childlike appearance on her face. She answered “Well my husband used to say that to me all the time and it always made me feel needed.” I proceeded to ask her how she truly felt about living alone. What she enjoyed more, her time alone or when Delores was with her? That’s when she said something that opened my eyes to her perspective of her life. Peggy explained to me that both her sons felt better about her living alone if she had help. She didn’t want to lose her independence so she embraced Delores and tries to appreciate all her help and make her feel needed when she is there. “I do just fine on my own, but I don’t want to push my luck with my boys,” she added. I started to realize what she was doing. She found a way to survive the changes of life and a way to make everyone happy, including herself.
When I sat down to write this paper I realized that going into this observation I started out with a biased opinion. I had the mentality that since Peggy was recently widowed she would be lonely and not feel comfortable living on her own. But it turned out that her independence was something she was glad to have. Peggy showed me a new perspective on living alone as a senior citizen. Life has many seasons and as long as you allow yourself to grow in each season and embrace the life God has given, you will end up just fine. At least in Peggy’s case, she is doing just fine and with a spunky personality I hope to have at her age.