Home is where the heart is, and Myrna Demers and others like her are doing their part to keep it that way.
As volunteers with the South Okanagan Seniors Wellness Society visitors program, the goal is to help people who might not otherwise be able to, live their lives the way they want to — independently.
In many cases it may only be a matter of stopping by the person’s home to share some companionship once or twice a week, going for a drive or just lending an ear for a couple of hours.
One of the first people Demers was matched up with was a 100-year-old area resident who was still living on her own but did not have any family residing nearby.
They quickly became friends and the bond grew stronger right up until the woman’s passing in late September.
During their all too brief time together, the two women shared much about their lives and Demers quickly discovered she benefited as much or more from the time together.
“I was so blessed to have been placed with this very special person,” said Demers, who moved to the Okanagan from northern Ontario several years ago after her own husband died. “We tend to forget older people need a connection to our world, they need to be listened to, they need to laugh, they need to love and be loved. Not only do they need this connection, but we do also.
“This lovely lady has given me this tenfold. I was also in the need of a friend and having my lady — I call her my lady because I’m not supposed to say her name — it really was a treasure.”
While Demers was deeply saddened by the passing of her friend, it was not unexpected.
They had even talked about the fact the end would one day come.
“She always said to me, ‘As long as I’m in my home, as long as I can still cook and do the things I want to, I will be fine, but if there ever comes a point when I am no longer in my home, then it will be my time,’” said Demers.
It was in July the woman, despite the visits and help from others, was moved to a seniors care facility.
Demers still regularly went to see her and despite the woman’s usual happy demeanour, there was a noticeable change.
“Then I went to visit her on Sept. 19 before I went on holiday and I said to her I would be back on Oct. 1 and she told me, ‘Well I really don’t think I’m going to be here when you get back, Myrna it’s my time,’” recalled Demers.
That was the last time she saw her lady.
“I miss her terribly but I know she chose her time and that’s what she wanted so it makes it better,” said her friend. “To me the wonderful thing was being able to be a part of her life, to enable her to be where she wanted to be for as long as she was able.”
Demers still has another woman in her 60s she visits through the wellness society and plans to find a second person in the new year to share her time with.
“It’s a wonderful program and it just gives me such great peace to know that I’m helping somebody live their lives the way they want to and it’s something I think more people should do,” she said.
At age 97, Penticton’s Stewart Pierce also still lives in his own home and remains fiercely independent.
“You bet, this is where I want to stay as long as a can,” said the former mechanic.
He too has a friend from the society by the name of Nigel Alakija who comes by to talk about current events and, of course, the good old days.
When asked how they get along, Pierce replied: “Oh, we do just fine, we kind of disagree a little bit. I have my own thoughts about a lot of things and he has his, but we don’t actually argue we just talk things over but I probably have a broader viewpoint than he does.”
Alakija just laughs as he slaps his friend on the back.
“To be fair about the whole thing, I think I get as much from it (visitor program) as I’m supposed to be giving, there’s no doubt about it, and I think that’s the reason people do this for so many years,” said the retired BC Tel employee. “I plan to keep doing it until I can’t do it any longer. You’re supposed to talk with them and make them feel OK, but what I found at the end of the day is they make you feel OK.”
Pierce has no doubt the visits help keep him sharp and is one of the main reasons to be where he wants to.
“Because once you stop keeping your mind and body active, you’re done for,” he said.
While program volunteers receive some training and are expected to remain somewhat at a distance, Nicole Peters, the society’s outreach program co-ordinator, admitted it can be a difficult challenge but in the end everyone benefits.
Since taking over the job in October, she has come to know many of the people who give of their time and energy and has nothing but praise for their efforts and commitment.
“The volunteers are fabulous and we couldn’t do this without them, they just make so much of a difference in the lives of these people who so badly need their help,” she said.
Peters added there is still a waiting list of people who would also like to have a “friend” of their own, and in the new year she will be looking for additional people.
Anyone who is interested in helping or would like more information can contact Peters at 250-487-7455 and leave a message or at firstname.lastname@example.org.