My Auntie J from Australia is fashion plate. At 90 years of age and barely 90 pounds, she is a wisp of a girl, who never looks anything but chic. Even her ‘sweat suits’ are more along the lines of Juicy Couture than what I wear to the gym. When I met her almost 30 years ago, she was never without a matching handbag for her beautiful and expensive shoes. In my ignorance of thinking back then(before I realized now how young 60 really is)that this was an ‘old lady’, I was also thinking, “damn, she’s a fine old gal with great taste!”
Up until last week when we had to take her to the hospital for the first time in 25 years, she had her hair done (as a blonde…..never gray) every week, and her nails done as well. She was an extraordinary example of fine grooming, beauty, grace, and the true benefit of “just a little lipstick, never hurts.”
So after ten days in the hospital, where she was really very, very seriously ill, we took her yesterday to a rehabilitation center. For very complex reasons, she went to a center two hours away. The ambulance drivers were two young adorable men, who treated her like their very own dear grandmother. By the time we met up with them at the end of the trip, she was holding their hands and kissing them goodbye.
She had been very concerned about the fact that she was transported in a hospital gown, but I reassured her that we would take her clothes and pretty pink nightgowns to the rehabilitation center, so she could be properly dressed there.
My husband and I have been very concerned for her health during this time and my mom, a former nurse has been right by our side the whole way, comforting, advising and just being a strong shoulder. But because my mom was a white uniform, starched hat nurse of the 40’s and 50’s, she has looked askance every day at the ‘sloppy’ nurses, aides, and technicians who have come to care for Aunt J.
“Look at that,” my mom would say.
“What?”, I ‘d reply, expecting an inept stick of the needle to draw blood, or a hospital meal that was not up to snuff.
“Look at how that nurse’s trousers are dragging on the floor, and no one has their hair up in a bun or a pony tail.”
“Well,” I say, “I guess we just have to overlook certain things when we are happy with her care.”
Of course, now I’M thinking something is terribly wrong here. And then I realize that my mom has much higher standards for dress and presentation than I, or the world, does any more.
So knowing Aunt J and her true art of dressing and personal presentation, I start to wonder if this is bothering her too. She never says anything and the following incident makes me realize that for Aunt J, it isn’t about how people look to her, it’s about how she presents herself to the world.
We get to the rehab center, and one of the last things I want to make sure of, is that Aunt J knows how to push the red button to call for help. With my mother-in-law, when she moved to assisted living, and with many stories from friends about their elders, I KNOW that this ‘pushing the button for help’ thing is somehow difficult for them to comprehend.
So I disconnect the button from the clips on the side of her bed, and make sure the cord is long enough so she can have the button at her fingertips. This particular button is like a tube with a bright red button at the top. So you would hold it in your hand, curl your fingers around the tube, and push on the bright red circle at the top of the tube with your thumb. That would be how most people would use it, and probably the easiest way.
I bring the tube close to her, and I pantomime what I want her to learn…pushing the button. And I’m telling her, “if you need help, you push this red button.” I put the tube in her hands and tell her:
“Now you practice. If you need any help, I want you to PUSH THE BUTTON.” And again, I show her what to do.
My darling, beautiful Aunt J, shakes her head in the affirmative, looks me straight in the eye with her beautiful blue-green eyes, looks at the tube that I have placed in her hand with the bright red button on top, takes her other hand, rubs the top with her index finger and promptly ‘applies’ the beautiful shade of red lipstick I have given her to her luscious lips. Classy and Fabulous.
You just have to laugh………………….