It is an understatement to say Irving Gladstone can weave a colorful story. He will be the first to tell you, “Oh, I’m a talker.” and he proved his self-description by captivating me for over 2 hours as we sat talking at his kitchen table recently. Irving is simply a remarkable, brilliant man with a spirit that fills a room.
Irving has been caring for his wife Lorraine in their Salem apartment for many years but the past 2 years have brought a quickened decline as dementia has set in and taken its toll. For 50 years Lorraine has been plagued with osteoarthritis which forced her to live in pain many days, along with having heart issues. She is now 24/7 care, mostly uncommunicative, and unable to walk. “She doesn’t know who I am, but she knows I’m someone who takes care of her….she knows I’m there to help.” and that is enough to keep Irving Gladstone the ever present and dedicated caregiver he is.
NSES Care Manager Ariel Engler suggested that Irving was a good example of a caregiver who was willing to seek help and by doing so, keep his wife out of a nursing home. Sitting with Ariel and Irving in the same room, it becomes quickly apparent that they have a mutual respect and admiration for one another. Irving declares her, “my guardian angel.” He tells Ariel that she has taught him that there are people out there who want to help. “You have been my light at the end of the tunnel; you always calm me down.”
It was a challenge to complete the application process for Mass Health and with much help and dedication from Ariel and the Salem CoA Outreach Worker, Sharon Felton, over a 4 month period, Lorraine is now receiving many hours of service through NSES and Hospice services. Despite all this help, Irving finds he is so tired. “No one can prepare you for this.” He quickly adds, “But I’m 92 soon and she’s 90, so what can I expect? I can’t complain.” He seems incredulous when he states, “We’ve been married 69 years….69!”
When I ask him what he is doing for himself, for a respite from this role, he tells me his doctor says he is pushing himself too hard. “I’m surviving because I have to.” It really is that simple to him. I suggest that maybe he could take some time to go to the CoA and participate in some of the activities. He agrees it would be a good thing for him but tells me, “I’d feel guilty if I left. I feel my place is here. I feel like I have to make up for the times I wasn’t always here because I had to work and leave her alone when she was in pain. It still bothers me that I wasn’t always there. Plus, when all your friends are gone, it’s hard.”
Irving wants to share the story of meeting Lorraine and brightens in its telling. He was a Senior at Boston University, preparing to graduate with a degree in Business and was on the Party Committee planning the Prom. He was not seeing anyone special so did not think he would attend until his friends kept insisting he find a date because it would be one of the last times they could all be together as many had enlisted with the armed forces. With the help of a cousin, he had 2 names of College girls she lived with who she suggested he call. Lorraine was the 2nd name on that list. He never reached girl #1. The rest is history.
“Lorraine is the nicest person I ever met. This woman is just the nicest person you could ever meet. She was so bright and witty and always had a quick remark. It is terribly sad that THIS should happen to her; that her mind should be lost.”
I wonder aloud if Irving has any advice for someone else who might find themselves in a similar situation. He is quick to say, “Yes. Call North Shore Elder Services. Ask for help. Get in touch with the professionals who can help. And you have to listen to the advice.”
When Irving talks about the future, he intends to keep Lorraine at home till the end. He believes it will be “rougher if I don’t have her here. It would be mental anguish. At least I know I pay attention to her.” He leans in as though in a conspiracy with me and whispers, “With all the help we’re getting, I should last a long time.” We are all cheering you on Irving, we are all cheering you on.
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