Recently, I spent four days in Seattle, writing my novel, hanging out with my fictional people, enjoying the paradox of solitude in the city. Being alone gave me a chance to do some people-watching. I certainly saw plenty of other people moving solo through the urban landscape. The freeways were full of us.
Then, in my car, stopped at a stoplight, I noticed two people, she middle-aged and he an elder, waiting for the cross-walk light to change. Their arms were linked at the elbow, as they talked, smiled, laughed in a sweet gentle way. I did not assume they were a married couple, but rather, because of my caregiving life, I thought they must be friends, companions. Later, eating in a café, I sat next to two women, the younger casually translating between the hard-of-hearing elder and the fast-talking young waitress.
In my life as a caregiver, providing this kind of simple companionship has always given me great satisfaction, because it fills such a basic human need for connection. Being companionable, in a caregiver role, is most often linked with doing other activities – errands, shopping, chores. But, rarely, someone hires me to spend time with them, purely as a friend. I have never found the wages an impediment to forming a true friendship.
Of course, the thought of paying someone to be a friend is no more appealing than when we were kids and the babysitter was paid to hang out with us. But in the elder world, friends and spouses pass away, families live far away or are busy, and elderly limitations can be challenges to our friendships. A sad example of this is when a person can no longer drive and can not go to see long-time friends, who may have restrictive conditions of their own. The flip side of this story is the lady I knew who was confined to her wheelchair but was steered all over town by her quite ambulatory blind friend!
Many elders would consider giving a companion some wage (maybe ten dollars for their gas, for their time), if they had a compatible enjoyable dependable friend to do things with. Maybe not the twenty dollars an hour that Circle of Life charges, since they grew up in the Depression. Families of elders might be tempted to take up the slack in the billing, if they thought about how much work it would be for them to find, screen, train, insure, and schedule this simple companionship. And, if they really stopped to think how much this kind of supportive companionship might mean to their family member.
After I left the café, I noticed another elderly man, with a vision problem, moving slowly alone down the sidewalk. Another old lady, sitting alone at a bus stop. They were everywhere. Where were their companions?
(This blog post previously appeared on the Circle of Life website. www.circleoflifeco-op.com
So theory is, it’s now copy-righted twice)