photo of purple irises in yard

What Minnie Taught Me

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My Journey into Gerontological Nursing

Friends have asked me why I chose gerontological nursing as my career.  In part, because of what Minnie taught me.

When I was in high school, we lived next door to an older couple, Al and Minnie, who had no children.

We enjoyed these neighbours; quiet and kind people. It seemed that their lives were very pleasant.

Al and Minnie

Al was a very tall man. He was a good baseball player in his youth. Minnie was a very tiny 70-year old woman, who enjoyed her garden, which included beautiful irises. (More about these flowers at the end of my story.)

Then, sadly, Minnie had a stroke. She was in hospital with only one option; she could be admitted into the Auxiliary Hospital. At that time, no rehab programs existed and home care had not even been thought about.  Medicare was being hotly debated in our neighbouring province of Saskatchewan as well as in our household, attached as we were to politics through our relatives! 

The Problem

Minnie wanted to go home and Al absolutely did not want her to go into the Auxiliary.  He decided to take her home and care for her by himself.  Al needed to work. He was the projectionist at the local theatre, working 3 evenings a week.  He could not leave Minnie alone. 

The Solution

Enter my mother — who managed to raise a large family and still have time and energy to take care of her community!  These three adults came up with a solution.  On the evenings that Al worked, I would go next door, with supper for Minnie and myself, prepared by my mom.  It was assumed that while Minnie watched television I would do my homework!  Minnie would have safety and I could earn some money. And so our special journey began.

My Journey with Minnie

I could never have imagined where this time spent with Minnie would take me.

First – eating the evening meal

Al had designed a wooden frame that he attached to the table so that Minnie’s plate would stay put and she could then eat with one hand.  I had only to cut her meat and butter her bread.  She managed the rest.  

Then – the dishes

Al told me to just stack the dishes in the sink and he would do them when he got home, and after Minnie was in bed.  But Minnie and I conspired that Al should not do all of the work himself.  So I washed, and Minnie sat in a chair with a large towel in her lap. I placed the dish in her lap and she dried it.  She put the dish on the table and when we had finished, she directed me through gestures and a few words where to put the dishes in the cupboards.  Al was so surprised when he arrived home.

Next – the homework

Initially, Minnie sat with me at the kitchen table and I would read my homework aloud to her.  She would try to repeat the words and to ask questions.  We soon realized that this frustrated both of us, so she left me alone and watched TV.  

Then one night I heard Minnie repeating the announcer on a game show so I joined her in the living room.  We discovered that, with slow repetition, she could learn to say many words again.  A new routine emerged. After supper and dishes, we watched one TV show and rehearsed several words.  Then she banished me to the kitchen and my homework

Dressing and undressing

One night, Al had to work later than usual and Minnie wanted to go to bed but was too embarrassed to have my help with undressing. So we figured out that she could do a lot for herself, using a kitchen tongs to pull off her clothes and put on her pyjamas.  I undid buttons and shoe laces and she managed the rest by herself!

What Minnie taught me:

  • that she was first and foremost a person, not a “stroke victim.”
  • what health means. Minnie was, in many ways, healthy! But limited by her physical abilities.
  • about resilience.  She and Al never gave up on hopes for recovery and continued to create ways that she could have independence.
  • the meaning of home. Being at home was the motivational force that helped Minnie to recover as much function as possible.

And this was the beginning of my journey into gerontological nursing.

The Irises

When Al and Minnie sold their house, the irises that grew in their yard were transplanted to my mom’s backyard. Years later, when Mom sold her house, those irises travelled with us to Calgary.  Today, they are growing in our yard.  

Minnie certainly defied many of the common myths of aging.  Read the article for more information. Common Myths About Aging

Print the pdf of this article. What Minnie Taught Me

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4 thoughts on “What Minnie Taught Me”

    1. Thanks Leslie
      I have had this story in my mind for a long time. I think that the best part about knowing and working with the older generation is that they give you the gift of many warm memories.

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