When I grow up, I want to be like Lottie Allen.
Lottie Allen was a resident at United Church Homes' Pilgrim Manor. Lottie moved into our health center when she was 91. Until that point, she was feisty, independent and living alone. However, as her dementia progressed, she had difficulty taking her medications and handling day-to-day life on her own. I met her the following year. What I noticed right away was her spirit of grace and gratitude.
Spirit of Gratitude
Lottie attended worship circle — a time of singing and praying — that I led each week. She’d say, “Isn’t God so good?” Usually, when I asked her what we could pray for, she wanted prayers for “world peace." And at the conclusion, she would say, “Honey, thank you so much! That’s just what I needed.” She never let an opportunity to say thank you pass her by.
I wasn’t the only person who was impressed with her grateful attitude. Our administrator said, “Lottie is so amazing. I helped her across the hall, just a little way, and she said, 'Thank you so much!'" Lottie made anyone she met feel special. So many residents and staff members felt touched by her grace: part of it was her spirit of gratitude, part of it was the integrity of her spirit.
Most days, I’d see Lottie sitting at a table in our recreation room reading the newspaper. I’d ask her, “How are you today?” She’d look up, smile and without fail say, “I am so blessed. Everyone takes such good care of me. This is the best place to live!” At the beginning of our relationship, I wondered if this was dementia making her forget the difficulties of life. I mean, she used a wheelchair and needed help getting dressed, taking her medications and moving her wheelchair. How good could life be when she faced so many challenges? What I realized over time is that she had mastered the art of serenity as articulated in the Serenity Prayer:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Lottie had accepted life with dementia, life in a retirement community and life that required dependence on others for help. Rather than resenting the life she lived, embarrassed to ask for help, Lottie instead focused on others, celebrating their kindness and compassion. The discipline of both gratitude and acceptance is a discipline hard to master but worth the effort! The outcome? Joy.
Lottie’s loving-kindness and gratitude arose out of faith and strength of character. Lottie was full of life, her gratefulness helping her to be the person God created her to be. And God created her playful, feisty and full of spirit. Most days, Lottie’s daughter, Marge, visited in the afternoon, not just to connect, but to play. Literally, to play cards; in particular, they played gin rummy. Most of the time, Lottie won. She enjoyed laughing with her nursing assistants as they playfully made plans to visit a nearby casino.
Lottie died this past spring. She was 96 years old. When we celebrated her life at a memorial service, I was shocked at the huge turnout. Even though she had outlived her siblings, spouses and many friends, the younger generation of nieces and nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews came to celebrate her life. "Aunt Wanda” (Lottie) had made them all feel loved and special. We all laughed as each of Lottie’s nieces and nephews relayed stories about Lottie, secretly telling each one of them, “You’re my favorite.” Lottie made each person feel like they belonged, and that they were an important person in her life. Somehow, I think she learned that from God.
Like I said, I want to be like aging hero Lottie Allen when I grow up. I have never a met a person so full of grace and kindness in my life! Add to that integrity, playfulness and emotional warmth. I’m 53 now, but working with older adults has taught me that spiritual and emotional growth is not only possible, but probable. Having a mentor like Lottie and so many other residents living here in Pilgrim Manor’s community gives me opportunities to learn as well as to make goals and dreams of who I want to become. Lottie showed me that quietly sharing grace person-to-person can change the world.
What mentors do you have who can help you age well? Who are you grateful to have in your life? How can you continue working out of your life’s passions in new ways as you age?