Last week I visited my mother’s retirement apartment and told her that I would take her used glass jars and bottles to be recycled. She cleans them and puts them in the back of her cabinet for me. “Oh, I have to go through them first,” she told me. “I save certain ones for when I make soup to take to people.”
People who have worked all of their lives at jobs, with responsibilities, co-workers, and schedules, sometimes look toward retirement as a scary prospect. “What will I do all day?” “I just can’t imagine how I’ll get going without deadlines and time demands.” They are told that volunteering is a good option. Volunteer jobs are everywhere. Volunteer work makes us feel good. Volunteer work gives one a place to be, people to see, a sense of accomplishment.
I hear that advice, and I agree. I try to do some of my share of charitable giving and volunteering. However, it is my mother who has taken it to the next level. She is 89 years old and lives, independently, in a small one bedroom apartment in a retirement community.
Until three years ago, she lived in a house that she and my father called home for 45 years. For many of those years, Mom loved to baby-sit for her grandchildren, for children at her church, at Mothers’ Day Out, and for children in her neighborhood. In her eighties, she is no longer able to care for the little ones, and that makes her sad.
My mother always gave money, a little she could barely afford, to almost every charity that asked, until she found herself living on less per month than most of the people she was trying to help. Even now, she feels it her duty to give to charity; so she has pared it down to a chosen couple of organizations. This makes her happy; so I try to help her with grocery or laundry money to help make up for her deficit in spending power; this makes me feel good.
Loath to give up her home, nervous about making new friends, and scared about living in an apartment building where she might lose some of her independence, my mother moved reluctantly. It is within her new community of retirees, though, where my mom has been able to optimize her love of giving and caring for others.
Several times a week, realizing that people eat better and enjoy it more in groups, Mom invites “the girls” to her apartment for a meal. She participates in, takes food to, and sometimes helps organize, events which take place in the building. When someone is ill, has had a stroke, or is just a shut-in, my mother makes it her daily responsibility to “check” on the person. Many times, one of the residents falls or has a health problem and must recuperate in a near-by nursing facility. Unable to drive herself, my mom hitches rides over to visit the invalid and takes a small gift and card. Speaking of cards–every so often, I take my mom to a Dollar Store, where she buys birthday cards and get-well cards for so many people that I envy her number of friendships.
There was a 100-year-old lady and her kitty who lived down the hall from my mother’s apartment. The neighbor lady was sweet, but somewhat of a recluse. That didn’t stop my mom from becoming her friend and adding the lady to her “check-on” list. When her friend, at age 102, had a heart attack and had to go to the hospital, my mother took on the task of caring for her old, shedding, kitty cat with its elimination-control problem. My animal loving parent wanted to make sure that the cat was there when the lady returned, because the kitty was “her family.” So she fed and watered the cat, kept the litter box clean, got down on her arthritic knees to clean the feces-soiled carpet, and stayed to pet and talk to the kitty every day for several weeks, even after the centenarian passed away and no one came to claim the cat. Instead of caring for the feline, the nephew who managed his elderly aunt’s meager estate complained that my mother had gained access to a key for his aunt’s apartment. Finally, the understanding retirement community manager told my mother she would take the cat to her own home rather than having it sent to a pound.
Today is Sunday, and my mother attends a community church service in her building. She has been collecting money from the small congregation to purchase a Christmas gift for her pastor and his wife. I took my mother out this past week to look for something appropriate.
No one will nominate my mother for a community service award. She won’t be written up in the newspaper for her high profile volunteer work or for significant fund-raising. There won’t be tons of people who even know how much she does and the number of lives she has touched. Her legacy will be the warm feeling in the hearts of those who know her. It will live in the actions of others who have been inspired by her to be giving of themselves.
There are so many people who give to others every day. They take care of their children, grandchildren, and parents. They rescue animals and give them loving homes for the rest of the innocent creatures’ lives. They organize activities for people in their communities, become team captains, work on charitable boards, help at their local libraries, pick up trash along roads, reduce, reuse, recycle, knit baby sweaters and booties for indigent newborns, give to food drives, help rehab houses for the poor, or make time in their lives to be a good friend. For these, and for so many other ways of giving, each person is rarely publicly recognized.
This is a heart- felt warm fuzzy, a huge thank you, for each and every one of you.