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This is a profile of an amazing elderly man who lived in our group home. I'm hoping to be able to compile like stories into a book aimed at middle-aged people who are having to make decisions about placing their parents in some kind of assisted living facility. It is intended to give an honest and realistic look at what goes on in a facility like ours.
99 Years and Counting
By Connie Bronson
Ollie talked more than any man I ever knew. At 98 years old he looked 78, but he had a severe hearing deficit. When we asked him why he hadn’t gotten hearing aids he said, “They tested my ears and said I needed two. They wouldn’t sell me just one, so I didn’t get any.”
He really was at a disadvantage considering how much he talked. He just kept talking, oblivious to anyone trying to make conversation. An amplifier on his large-numbered phone worked great for him. There were times when he was talking into the phone, but no one was on the other end. He entertained many a telemarketer.
He had a lady friend at the senior apartments. Lucinda was 91 years old and she wanted to marry Ollie. He said “ I told her to pick out a ring and I would get it for her. But it cost $35.00! That’s ridiculous!”
They spoke several times a day. He gave her big loud smooches at night.
At Providence House our basset hound, Tillie ,just adored Ollie. He declared “ it isn’t right to feed her from the table.” But it wasn’t long before he was sharing his meat with her. Ollie had raised award-winning hunting beagles for many years. He told us about hunting minks, pheasants, quail and rabbits. He relished any occasion to bring out old photos to prove it.
When he was 99-years-old his friends at the Spoonville Gun Club arranged to get him there for opening day of pheasant season. He stayed in the car and got a shot out of the car window. What a treat for him!
Ollie also had photos of a baseball team that went semi-pro when he played third base. And he could still name each player. Being civic minded, Ollie voted by absentee ballot at 99 years old. He stood by the Democratic party even though he deeply disapproved of President Clinton’s behavior. He said “I always had a job when Democrats were in charge.”
When I was a child, Ollie had lived across the road from us. I didn’t know him, but his sister, Letty, had been my 3rd grade school teacher.
Ollie was very sociable and many folks frequently took him out for a meal or to the senior center to play cribbage. It was difficult to get them to cooperate with our rules -- we must know of plans ahead of time, someone must come into the house to get Ollie, and bring him into the house when he returns. And they all needed to help him avoid foods that could cause a problem with his diabetes.
Ollie’s diet was unique. His daughter sent us a food list so I could help him adjust to group living by preparing his favorite foods. Such a strange diet. He was so stubborn about what he ate that it was truly amazing he had lived so long.
How did a man born in 1903 live his life without potatoes? Ollie said, “That’s because when I was little I always sat on my mother’s lap at meal time, and Letty sat on our father’s lap. My mother didn’t eat potatoes but she cooked them for my father.” It seems to us that in 99 years he might have been just a little curious about potatoes and other foods along the way.
Ollie’s favorite food was what he called bean soup, some water and a pat of butter in a pan of Great Northern beans. When I made homemade bean and ham soup with celery, onions, and carrots in it he wouldn’t eat it.
He ate chicken broth. He liked noodles cooked in broth, but he would not eat the noodles in canned chicken noodle soup. He ate meat without gravy or sauce, and no casseroles. But he ate bread with gravy on it. Corn on the cob was one of two vegetables he would eat. He let it cool so he could spread lots of butter over two rows at a time, eat it , and butter two more rows.
Ollie was quite a ladies’ man . One thing he did to impress the ladies was his rooster crow. It was so endearing to watch this very old man crow a convincing rendition of “cock-a-doodle-do.” He’d say “I learned to crow when I was ten years old and been crowing for almost 90 years!” It was sometimes difficult to get him to STOP crowing.
In his 99th winter, his health began to fail. He was determined to make it to his 100th birthday because his family and distant friends were planning a huge open house for him. He needed that party to focus on. A prostate cancer survivor, he suffered from diabetes and poor circulation. We had to limit how often he could go out and for how long. He didn’t like that but he got fatigued and confused when he overdid things.
As the dementia worsened, Ollie would get up in the middle of the night, get dressed, put on his jacket and cap, talking the whole time. Sometimes he sat and waited for someone to pick him up. But other times he actually went outdoors in the night.
We have a screeching, startling alarm whenever any of the exterior doors are opened in the night. One night when the alarm went off I found Ollie outdoors on the ramp. He hadn’t heard the alarms. “Ollie, where are you going?” I asked. He had on only his briefs and a pajama top and bare feet.
“I’m going to run Chuck’s dogs for him. That’s the arrangement. I run his dogs Tuesday and Thursday and he runs mine the other days. The hounds are waiting.” he explained.
“No, Ollie. It’s the middle of the night. Everybody’s asleep, including the hounds!” I shouted “Let’s go look at your clock. You’ll see, it’s not morning yet.” When he finally understood, he would get back into pajamas and let me tuck him in.
As he settled down he said, “OK Honey, I know. I’ll stay in bed. I’ll take care of the hounds in the morning.” It was most frustrating to get him to stop talking.
Then I checked the ladies’ rooms to see if any of them had been awakened or frightened by the shrill alarm. It’s surprising how many of them never heard it. I reset the alarms and returned downstairs.
When April came it was time for Ollie’s big day. The party was grand. Ollie smiled the whole time. He had to take his portable oxygen tank in his wheelchair. He looked frail, but he was so happy. When anyone asked Ollie for his secret to longevity, he said “I guess I was so busy enjoying myself, I just forgot to die!”
We moved Ollie to our only private room so we could keep a closer eye on him. Near the end he was talking all the time, to people who were not in his room except for their photos. He lay on his bed facing the wall where the photos of his parents, his brother, and his wife “spoke” to him. His voice was weak, but often he cried out for his daughters.
He was admitted to Hospice services and they soon decided to provide comfort measures only for Ollie. That means not being concerned about his food or water intake, stopping his regular medications, and administering pain and anxiety medication along with round-the-clock oxygen.
As we watched his spiral downward physically, it was difficult for the other residents to witness the process of letting Ollie go home. They were very much aware.
We’ve found that we’re able to go through the dying process with our residents in a state of grace. We have come to cherish and respect each one God has entrusted to us. It is truly an honor to take part in their final years and a privilege to have known and cared for this amazing man called Ollie.
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