Reflections from Villager Monica HubbardBy Monica Hubbard
The philosopher Seneca said, “Nothing is ours except time.”
The writer Anaïs Nin wrote:
Each friend represents a world in us,
a world possibly not born until they arrive
and it is only by this meeting
that a new world is born.
I had just opened Facebook to start looking for interesting news to put in to my weekly women’s enewsletter Wired Women when Sue Kujawa called to ask if I could speak at Pasadena Village’s Annual Meeting. I asked her if I could think about it. I’ve never liked public speaking and avoid it whenever possible.
Interestingly, the first Facebook post I saw after hanging up the phone was an article called “Helping Seniors Avoid Social Frailty.” The article started: “We’ve just recently come out of the thick of COVID, where we were constantly isolating for the sake of our health. Older adults were especially vulnerable, so extra precautions were taken to keep them safe. Solitary lifestyles adopted out of necessity became the new norm for a number of older adults who have yet to get back to regular socializing. However, we now know how risky social isolation can be. Social frailty, also called social vulnerability, is more common than both cognitive and physical frailty combined, according to a recently available study. Those who are socially frail can feel abandoned, devalued, and worried about who to turn to in a time of need. Social frailty is also linked to poor health outcomes – meaning it is essential for physicians to screen for it during regular checkups.”
I took as a sign seeing that article, right after hanging up the phone with Sue, so I let her know I’d come.
As I started thinking about what to say, I started noticing how many articles were popping up in newspapers and magazines about the epidemic of loneliness being experienced by older people, exacerbated by the need to stay at home during COVID.
“Socially frail” is not a phrase that I would ever have used to describe Tom and me. And when Mike Babcock first corralled us back in 2011 as we were leaving church one morning to tell us about a small group of friends who were getting together to start up some kind of group of seniors who wanted to age in place, I remember thinking, “Gosh, do Tom and I need another group to belong to? We have lots of friends and neighbors. We’re active.” But we couldn’t say “no” to Mike.
Though we couldn’t attend a supper Mike invited us to, we were able to go to a gathering at Jim and Nancy Goodell’s later that June. Attending that event opened a floodgate of organizing and planning meetings, e-mails, and community-building social events. And even though I was still maintaining that Tom and I didn’t need a group like the Village, I found I was enjoying reconnecting with friends and acquaintances I hadn’t seen for a while and bringing a few of my skills to the group.
The goal of all those meetings was to be operational by July 2012. I’ve never been involved with such an energized group! I had to create a special e-mail file just for all the Village e-mails.
Al Koch spearheaded getting Articles of Incorporation written, with help from Gloria Pitzer. Our current board president, Sue Kujawa, stepped up to serve as Volunteer Executive Director in the fall of 2011. Tom and I were asked if our names could be included on the board of directors list. I gulped and we said yes.
With help from Susan Hixon, the group applied for an Archstone Foundation grant, but didn’t get it. We forged ahead anyway, and the Episcopal Communities and Services provided much-needed startup funds and ongoing support for several years while all the volunteers were helping launch Pasadena Village.
Jim Goodell wrote, “While we await word on Archstone, we want to begin giving more shape to our evolving organization. A small group of us, let's call it the ‘Organizing Committee,’ have been taking care of the odds and ends of getting the Village off the ground. That group included the following:
Mike Babcock, Elsie Sadler, Patrick Dunavan, Clarke Oler, Louanna Law, Al Koch, John Tuite, Jim & Nancy Goodell and Peggy Sisson. Clarke Oler and Mike Babcock, the catalysts in getting a committee structure formulated, then reached out to all the ‘founding members’ to get those committees populated.”
As I mentioned, from the beginning, I never felt that I needed the Village. Tom and I had been retired for many years, we had friends from many compartments of our lives, enjoyed attending concerts and plays and eating out with friends. We were content. But Tom did decide to join the Men’s Group and later the Playreaders group, which he looked forward to each month. I was involved a little with the communications and membership committees, helped lead a couple of holiday sing-a-longs, and loved attending as many Village activities as we could that involved food, since “cook” has remained a four-letter word for me.
A couple of years later “stuff” started happening with Tom, as more health issues popped up for him: Two drop attacks. Fainting spells. Memory and cognition issues. A mild heart attack. With each new incident and the anxiety it engendered, in addition to the frenzy of doctor appointments, I could feel my world shifting along with Tom’s.
The writer Annie Dillard meditated on living with presence and said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
My days felt overwhelming, being a caregiver and running all aspects of a household.
I found I was turning more and more to Pasadena Village. Village friends stepped up to drive Tom to Men’s Group and Playreaders and occasionally out for a meal. Thanks to a referral from a longtime friend and Village member, I found a driver to take Tom to and from the cardiac gym for his rehab. If I got sick, Village members brought supper. I sought referrals from Village members for various kinds of services and other resources, and they were generous with their help and attention.
Tom’s formal Parkinson’s diagnosis came in April of 2014 though the symptoms had started much earlier. As the years progressed and Tom’s Parkinson’s symptoms slowly increased, I found I needed more help getting through the days. I started attending a Village support group that morphed over time to one led by USC social workers. Sadly, that group slowly faded away.
I was sinking into deep depression and started taking antidepressants. But I learned there were a few others in the Village also taking care of partners at home. Thanks to Esther Gillies’ leadership, that group met to explore possibilities, and the caregiver support group was born in early 2020. First we met in person at the Village office and then COVID arrived. Thanks to the Village providing us the technology, we were able to start meeting on Zoom, and we’re still going strong. While we very much value face-to-face togetherness, the Zoom meetings have been extraordinarily helpful. The bonds we’ve formed are strong and deep.
This past January I hired more caregiving help at night so I could get some uninterrupted sleep. It has made all the difference. For the first time in years, I’m starting to feel that I can get out into the community a bit more. And as I started contemplating how I might do that, Pasadena Village popped up first.
When Katie sent out a message to the Village three weeks ago that a new women’s support group might be forming, I found that I wanted to “try it on.” I knew about half the women who attended that first meeting and the others are brand new friends. I’m already looking forward to those monthly meetings.
As I looked back over my years with Pasadena Village I could see that reflections, evaluations, explorations and “try-ons” have been an integral part of the Village process since the Village began. I’ve watched Pasadena Village grow in terms of the number of members, and in our organizational capacity to meet each other’s needs. Threads running through our Village tapestry since the beginning are the desire to strengthen our existing connections and make new ones; our willingness to explore new activities and new ways of working together in groups (living out Margaret Wheatley’s quote, “You know something and I know something and together we know something more.”); our desire to be lifelong learners; and sincerely wanting to help each other navigate the various roads we are all traveling and handle the inevitable “curve balls” that life throws at us. The willingness of our members to share precious time, myriad talents and treasures to help grow and support our caring community, both collectively and individually, has really been quite extraordinary.
All of us have worlds that are both expanding and shrinking. And I think we are all experiencing a special kind of Pasadena Village grace and resilience in our interactions with one another and in our efforts to grow and support our caring community. I know I am.
In closing I’d like to share the words of three writers much more eloquent than I. The first is the poet Gwendolyn Brooks, who was writing about the African American singer and activist Paul Robeson.
we all heard it,
cool and clear,
cutting across the hot grit of the day.
The major Voice.
The adult Voice
forgoing Rolling River,
forgoing tearful tale of bale and barge
and other symptoms of an old despond.
Warning, in music-words
devout and large,
that we are each other’s
we are each other’s
we are each other’s
magnitude and bond.
During COVID the illustrator and writer Sophie Blackall wrote:
I have often found myself romanticizing the Before Times, when we could travel the world and hug our friends and shake hands with strangers, but I have come to the conclusion that it’s better to look forward: to gather the things we’ve learned and use our patience and perseverance and courage and empathy to care for each other and to work toward a better future for all people. To look forward to things like long-term environmental protection and racial justice; equal rights and an inclusive society; free health care and equitable education; an end to poverty, hunger, and war. But we can also look forward to everyday things that will buoy our spirits and make us laugh and help us feel alive and that will bring others comfort and hope.
And finally, from Simone de Beauvoir:
There is only one solution if old age is not to be an absurd parody of our former life, and that is to go on pursuing ends that give our existence a meaning — devotion to individuals, to groups or to causes, social, political, intellectual or creative work… In old age we should wish still to have passions strong enough to prevent us turning in on ourselves. One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation, compassion.
So, cheers to Pasadena Village and all of us! Long may we thrive!