How we’ve kept Belle aging in community for 102 years

by Kerry Lupher

Belle and her "caregivers"

In her royal blue velour sweat suit and a Black Hills gold ring her late husband gave her many decades ago, Belle looked just beautiful seated in her wheelchair (although I hear she doesn’t really need it) at her surprise 102nd birthday party Sunday. Gathered around the kitchen table we celebrated with Boston Market and jelly-filled cake with a bit too much way-too-sweet icing. The signed 8 by 10 of Bob Barker was still taped above the 12-inch TV (complete with rabbit ears). The amplified telephone she thinks we paid too much for rests in its cradle on the counter, with the same typewritten speed-dial numbers taped to the receiver. As Belle opened her seventh birthday card and fourth box of Russell Stover’s chocolate, my eyes wandered up to that new oven her nephew installed about seven years ago and wondered, even today, if it had ever been used. I remember Belle telling me how much she hated that oven. It had no dials like the old one that literally blew up; everything on it was digital and Belle just didn’t trust it. What are you going to do?

No “real” family attended Belle’s birthday party—she had no children of her own and her only living sister lived hundreds of miles away. But that didn’t matter Sunday because those we shared cake with were as close to family as they come and have helped allow Belle to continue living in her home for many years. Judy, Gloria, Linda and Lydia have an elaborate schedule worked out for Belle. They help her with meals and meds, make sure Belle’s beloved Susie—the not-so-mini poodle we picked up for Belle at the Humane Society—gets what she needs and, most importantly, keep Belle company. Although they were each hired as “caregivers,” they seem to each have adopted Belle as their own.

In the past few years, I’ve come to know some amazing organizations in metro Denver that help older adults like Belle “age in community,” like Washington Park Cares and Volunteers in Action, grantees of JVA Consulting’s Colorado Compassion Initiative (CCI). Another CCI grantee, Neighborhood Resource Center of Colorado, helps connect residents, neighbors, local governments, businesses and community groups “working together for stronger, healthier communities.”  To learn about these and other organizations helping older adults age in community, go to www.jvaconsulting.com/cci.

When I lived next door to Belle, renting her old 1940s farmhouse years ago, I was more able to help her “age in community.” Now, I know she’s well taken care of and work together with other young families in old-town Louisville (those of us under age 50) to maintain the strong, healthy communities built generations ago. We shovel snow off sidewalks, drive neighbors to doctors’ appointments and hold vigil when someone’s life partner passes away.  Sometimes, we just stop what we are doing in our all-too-fast-paced lives and chat about the weather or the game or what Bob Barker might be up to these days.

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