Forget Me Not: Elderly are not to be forgotten

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Noelle Leavitt Riley

— Growing old is not easy. I never realized how difficult it is for the elderly until my grandma Mary Leavitt broke her hip in 2005, which ultimately confined her to a nursing home.

Unfortunately, she took her last breath in a place she did not call home, a place where other senior citizens rarely were visited by their family, a place where a majority of the elderly population end up despite their desperate wishes to live and die in their own houses.

Luckily, my grandmother’s nursing home was four blocks from my apartment in Denver, so I was able to visit her every morning before I went to work and every evening on my way home.

The process lasted for two months until she passed away two days before Valentine’s Day. She spent Christmas and New Year’s confined to a room that she shared with two other ailing women. As I visited her during the holidays, I couldn’t help but notice that many of the residents didn’t have cards in their rooms and didn’t have loved ones visit them.

My heart sank knowing that many of the elderly in the nursing home were forgotten. One would think that perhaps they didn’t have family or friends, yet the pictures on the walls told a different story.

When I visited my grandma, I often would stop by to say hi to some of the residents, asking them how they were doing. They had names like Ida, Virginia and Gertrude. They loved my inquiries and always wanted to talk about their children and grandchildren.

I saw their spirits light up as they went on about the successes of their sons, daughters and grandkids. I couldn’t help but wonder why they weren’t celebrating the holidays with them.

After my grandma’s death, my feelings toward the elderly grew very compassionate.

I felt compelled to reach out and let them know that they are not forgotten by society.

The Christmas following my grandma’s death was extremely emotional for me. It felt wrong celebrating the holidays knowing that so many seniors were all alone in nursing homes, so I decided to do something about it.

I went to the local grocery store and asked if they had any flowers that they’d be willing to donate to me so I could take them to a nearby nursing home. To my surprise, they gave me dozens of bouquets.

As I left the store with a buggy full of flowers, I began to cry. They were tears of joy. At that moment, I knew that I was about to make a significant impact on the lives of the elderly. I went to the nursing home and stopped by each room, passing out flowers. I took time to sit and listen to amazing stories from the residents.

And that’s how the Forget Me Not foundation was born. My boyfriend at the time — who is now my husband — was with me every day that my grandmother was confined to the nursing home. He and I run the foundation together.

We took donated flowers to the elderly on a monthly basis up until we moved to Northwest Colorado, as we’ve been busy getting acclimated to our new jobs and settling in. Yet, we’re in the process of relaunching our efforts.

I had to share the background of how Forget Me Not was born in order to explain what this column will be about each week. I plan to use this space to highlight various stories within the senior population.

I’ll write about Medicaid and Medicare as it pertains to the elderly. I’ll conduct interviews with seniors who are battling with difficult decisions about where they’re going to end up as their health dwindles.

But I also want to write about the joys and special moments in the lives of our forgotten population. I look forward to reaching out and sharing those stories with you. If you know someone that should be highlighted in this column, feel free to email or call me.

Noelle Leavitt Riley can be reached at 970-875-1790 or nriley@CraigDailyPress.com.

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