When “Doing unto Others” Strikes Home

When Myra retired, she “decompressed” for a year, as she put it. “Then I called JFCS and said, ‘I want to volunteer.’” Soon after, Myra became a Seniors At Home RIDES driver—shuttling older people to and from appointments—and a friendly visitor to those hungering for companionship and conversation. “Those experiences were quite meaningful,” Myra says. “I wouldn’t have thought, 15 years later, I’d be saying to Seniors At Home, ‘Now I need the same help.’”

Myra with Marc

That’s because Myra had always viewed herself as “young at heart,” active, and autonomous … which she was. A divorced mother of two grown children, Myra was a highly regarded professor emerita at a local university. In addition to her Seniors At Home volunteer activities, she swam three times a week, continued to write academic articles, and had subscriptions to the ballet, symphony, opera, and theater.

But then, quite suddenly, she slipped going down the steps in front of her house, “and I ended up in the hospital with a broken hip. It got worse—I received a diagnosis of osteoporosis, and my recovery was never 100 percent successful. I am now in constant pain, and it is difficult for me to walk any significant distance. It makes me feel depressed. The pain reminds me of what I can’t do anymore.”

Instead of succumbing to depression, Myra, now 78, reached out to her favorite agency—Seniors At Home—for support. She was connected to a delightful volunteer, Marc, who is also a teacher. The two meet weekly at Myra’s house in Marin County for what she calls all of the “vital C’s”: conversation, coffee, chocolate, and cookies. When she is up to it, which is now more and more, she accompanies Marc and his husband, Bill, to plays and concerts. They also get together for holiday meals, including the most recent Passover Seder.

“Marc also convinced me—and believe me, I’m a tough customer—that it was time to get some occasional help around me house,” says Myra. “My home care aide from Seniors At Home has worked out well, contrary to my initial misgivings. I have to admit that I was wrong, and Marc and my children were right about getting some additional assistance.”

Although Myra suffers from bouts of frustration due to her diminished physical capacities, her spirits have lifted and her curiosity about life and people continues unabated. “I often reflect on all those years when I was on the opposite side of the fence—as a volunteer,” says Myra. “At the time, I thought it’d be cathartic to work with older people because I was missing my own mother, who had died several years before. There was also some enlightened self-interest on my part: doing good for society, helping other people, paying it forward.

“But now I see that the work I was doing—and that Marc is now doing on my behalf—matters in a very deep way. At almost 80, I’ve lived through the loss of many friends and relatives. My world has become smaller. But Marc has made sure that I’m not like an old Eskimo floating alone on an iceberg. That’s what we all need—people who connect with us, who make us realize that we still are here. He allows me to be the kvetchy, opinionated old bird I’ve always been, and I love him for it.”