Sandra Okleasky moved to Chesterfield 27 years ago to escape the cold of New England. With her son in the Police Academy here, it seemed like a natural choice. She loves the nature and beauty in the part of the county where she lives but would prefer to see less traffic and new development in the county.
A little over two years ago, Sandra's friend referred her to Seniors Helping Seniors. Here's what she said about what she's learned:
I had no idea there was such a need for all the services SHS provides and have truly been enriched by the experiences I have encountered with the receivers and their families.
In her own words, Sandra recounted a story about a particular senior she encountered with SHS:
I have had many positive and memorable experiences, but one that I will always remember was from October, 2017 when I was offered the opportunity by SHS to help a family from Connecticut with assisting Kathleen, a dear, beloved family friend and grandmother figure to the bride and her family. I was assigned to be her companion and helper as she was in a wheelchair and was to attend the wedding rehearsal dinner and the wedding on the following day.
Since I had never met the receiver or the family and had only conversed on the phone, I was a little anxious as it was for a long time and hoped I could meet their expectations. My fears were dashed when I met Kathleen at the hotel and entered the room of a very gracious, polished 97-year old woman. Her first comment to me was, "Hello, dear, does my hair look okay?" I immediately loved her as she was a delight and we were off on our 2-day adventure. At times it was difficult to maneuver the wheelchair and lift it in and out of the car with dress clothes on, but we did it! She was funny and sweet and wore beautiful sparkly tops and we shared much laughter and life stories-an amazing woman!
The wedding day presented its own difficulties as it was outdoors at a plantation in VA. and when I put her in the wheelchair there on a dirt road, I knew it was going to be a challenge for me to push her, so I prayed I could do it and, lo and behold, an angel named Caroline appeared in a golf cart! Miraculously, she was assigned to pick us up and away we went to the wedding ceremony, wheelchair in tow. We were then transported, again by Caroline, to the reception, held outside also with a delightful farm table decor along with food trucks serving pizza and tacos. Dessert was cupcakes and string lights were suspended overhead providing the musicians and guests with a softening glow. It was all very beautiful and delightful.
Kathleen had a great time and always was concerned about my welfare. I so enjoyed her company and felt honored to be with her. The family was also so kind and gracious to me and appreciated my attentiveness to her also. All was great until around 9 pm when it started to rain. I immediately summoned our golf cart friend so I could get Kathleen back to the car without getting soaked. It took a while to get to the handicapped parking lot in the rain and the lighting was poor but with Caroline's help, we safely got Kathleen back into my car. Caroline was so kind and good to us and I thanked her profusely ashamed I did not have more to give her from what I had with me. She was amazing. So, off we went and Kathleen and I laughed and shared more stories on our way back to the hotel. I got her safely back to her room in her wheelchair and she was funny and so gracious all the while. I was tired, but reluctant to say goodbye not knowing when or how I would see her again as she lived in Connecticut.
She invited me for a visit there and I later sent her a thank you card and also called her. She was her gracious, funny self and I so enjoyed conversing with her. I told her I still had sparkles in my car from her outfits and every time I see one I smile as it reminds me of her and her zest for life and sparkling personality. (She was so amazing and took up ballroom dancing at age 85!)
Anyway to my great sadness and dismay, I received a card from her family notifying me of her death in December, 2017, just 2 months after that beautiful wedding. I am still sad that she is no longer with us and feel truly blessed that I was able to share some time with her, though briefly. I will always remember her and how she inspired my life to be joyful, thankful and perhaps more gracious. I still find sparkles in my car, so I know she is still with me.
What Sandra Learned
From this experience and others with Seniors Helping Seniors, Sandra has learned that " life should not be taken for granted and is so fleeting and to embrace those in front of you and be kind and helpful and as cheerful as you can." She wants families to know that their senior loved ones should never lose their dignity and to be respected for they did not choose their infirmities. We should remember that we could face the same challenges one day. In summary, she states, "They have value, special memories and great stories and want to be heard and not be invisible."