SENIOR STORIES

Marsha and Suzanne: Like comfort food for the soul

by LuAnne Speeter

Marsha was welcomed into our Little Brothers – Friends of the Elderly family back in 2008. Over the years, she has enjoyed the cards and coffee group, playing bingo and attending luncheons. A fond memory of hers is spontaneously joining in with the other guests to sing Christmas carols at a holiday meal. And since being admitted to Augustana Care Center, she’s been receiving Friendship and Flowers deliveries.

But it was only recently that she asked to be matched with an LBFE Visiting Volunteer. And she’s glad she did.

“I look forward to Tuesdays,” Marsha, who is age 70, said with a smile. “That’s when Suzanne comes to visit me. We talk about everything, have lunch and get outside to our usual haunts – like going across the street for chai tea.” She then flashed her turquoise fingertips. “And she does my nails – and hers, too!”

Visiting Volunteer Suzanne also relishes their Tuesday engagements. “Marsha and I share a connection that has a lot to do with our age and ethnicity,” she said. “She reminds me of family. It’s comfort food.” Suzanne, who is 61, holds her own grandmother’s memory in high esteem. “She used to say, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected.’ She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. But you don’t need to win the Nobel Prize to make a difference – you can do that right in your own corner of the world.”

Suzanne is a transplant from the East Coast, her speech revealing her “Jersey girl” upbringing. As part of her strategy to complete her PhD in public health, Suzanne needed access to the Mayo Clinic database, so moving to Rochester was a necessary tactic. She subsequently did clinical research at Harvard, then studied in London, but she longed to return to Minnesota, and now lives just east of St. Paul.

“Social isolation is really a public health issue,” Suzanne said. “Marsha is isolated, but I’m isolated, too, even though I work and have two adult children and two dogs.” The recent loss of her partner motivated Suzanne to reach out and volunteer at LBFE. “It’s part of my way of remembering him and bringing balance into my life,” she said.

Marsha, too, lost her husband – it’s now been four years – and she finds the visits with Suzanne are helping her to forge a new life. “She brings me joy. Before, I was kind of paranoid. But Suzanne helps me be more aware of things and people around me. She makes my life much better.” Marsha is learning to deal with reduced mobility following the amputation of her right leg and now uses an electric wheelchair to get around.

“I don’t think Marsha knows how much she does for me,” Suzanne said. “When we’re together, it gives me a chance to breathe in and exhale.” She believes that people are inclined to do things for others that are mutually beneficial. “Volunteering is like that,” she said. “If you’re having hard times, it takes the focus off your troubles. It uplifts and enriches your own life in addition to the individual you’re sharing your time with.”

Marsha has a history of serving others, as well. “I served in the National Guard in Nebraska from 1978 to 1982 and received an honorable discharge. I then worked for many years in medical facilities, admitting and releasing patients and tracking medical records.” She now volunteers at Augustana Care, “paying it forward” by assisting in the chapel and the gift shop.

They both are busily planning their Tuesdays with the arrival of summer, starting with the Summer Sizzle barbecue party for LBFE Elders and their Visiting Volunteers. Suzanne would like to check out places Marsha hasn’t been to yet, such as the Como Park Conservatory. “It might take a little planning to see which support systems are in place for accessibility,” she said.

Marsha is hopeful that she’ll move into an independent living apartment soon where she and Suzanne would continue their visits. “I’m staying flexible!” she exclaimed. “I mainly want to do simple things – each lunch, trim my hair, get out into nature – just enjoy life!”

To learn more about volunteering or to refer an elder for visiting services, log onto littlebrothersmn.org.

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