The wealth of knowledge and experiences seniors possess are ones we as a society often times take for granted. But for their stories to live on, someone must tell them...
A FRIENDSHIP BETTER THAN ASPIRIN
Two country girls became “like sisters” as they cope with their disabilities.
It’s no surprise that Ms. Karen Keating has already been nicknamed “The Social Butterfly” less than a year after moving into Talmage Terrace / Lanier Gardens, the Wesley Woods community in Athens, GA. As a retired security officer, mother of two, dog lover, aspiring poet and resident “go-to” counselor, Karen has many stories up her sleeve. But today, she’s sharing how her new best friend, Ms. Annette Moore, makes her feel “better than a daily aspirin.”
“Annette has become my best friend here. She’s now more like family, like my sister. We have a lot in common because we’re both positive, we love people and we’re true to ourselves. I just can’t say enough good things about her!” Karen shares with a smile growing ear-to-ear.
The duo met after Karen asked to sit with a group of women she hadn’t met yet at lunch one afternoon. She immediately noticed how friendly, down-to-earth and kind Annette was. “While I still have some time on this earth, I’m looking for peace, positivity and happy people who like to give hugs and make each other laugh, and that’s what I found in Annette.”
An Oconee county native, Annette spent 20 years in Atlanta as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) at Grady Hospital. Soon after, she moved back home to care for her mother who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, all while coping with serious health challenges of her own.
Annette explains, “I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (M.S.) 37 years ago and it’s made me blind. When I found out, I was close to giving up. Then I asked God to give me strength to accept it. Ever since then, I’ve told myself that I’m not going to let it slow me down...and I don’t.”
This certainly stands true as Annette is President of the Wesley Woods vision support group, a frequent senior center visitor and singer in the “Belle Hill Singers.” We’re not sure what makes our hearts melt more, hearing her sing This Little Light of Mine a capella or seeing her perseverance in action through her unbreakable positive attitude.
“There aren’t a lot of people you can talk about your disability with...they just don’t want to hear it. That’s why Karen is so special to me. When I’m in pain or something happens, she always listens. A lot of times I can’t do things for myself, but whatever I need, Karen’s there for me. We just blend together - like two sisters.” Annette shares. “To be able to uplift people regardless of what they’re going through is such a huge thing. That’s why Annette is so special to me.” Karen adds.
Annette and Karen can often be found sitting in the lobby cracking jokes, exchanging stories in the laundry room, attending activities and eating meals together. In fact, Karen helps pick out Annette’s clothes before escorting her down to the dining hall for meals each day.
“We’ve really found a sense of community here at Wesley Woods. It’s the reason why we were able to find each other. I hope I’m here a long, long time, because I just love it!” Karen exclaims. With that, these two are off to another laugh-filled meal together.
A BOND OF BROTHERHOOD
Glenn, Les and Joe share how their friendship is more like brotherhood.
It’s 4:00 in the afternoon. A 90-year-old retired CDC executive, a psychologist approaching his 84th birthday and an 86-year-old retired multi-florist shop owner meet up for their daily social hour together. “This is the time we devote to each other every day. We have a lot of fun together! I really love these two guys. Without these friendships, my life would be much less fulfilling.” That’s Mr. Glenn Bourgeois, a Florida gator and horticulture major who owned and operated several florist shops throughout the greater Atlanta area. Glenn is a father of four, dedicated husband and loving grandfather.
Glenn is best known for his outgoing personality, contagious laugh and kindheartedness. You’d be hard pressed to find a resident at Wesley Woods Towers in Atlanta who hasn’t been invited to join him for a meal or received his counsel during a time of hardship. It’s no surprise he sees his seven years at Wesley Woods as “pure heaven.”
“We’re three people who can converse about pretty much anything: religion, politics, you name it. You just can’t appreciate how difficult that is to find. The intimacy we have can’t be matched,” adds Mr. Joe Giordano, a two-year resident born and raised in the Bronx who made his way to the South with his wife and three children after being transferred to the CDC in Atlanta, where he retired 35 years ago.
“My first impression of Glenn was that he was the leader. I really wanted him as my friend because he was such an interesting person. Then I met Joe and he changed my life...I thought ‘there’s one of me out there somewhere and there he is!’ He’s like my big brother,” says Mr. Les McGukin, a practicing psychologist and two-year resident with a sense of humor drier than his martini.
While Glenn, Joe and Les come from different backgrounds, they do share one thing in common - experiencing grief.
Sadly, one month after Les and his wife moved to Wesley Woods, she passed away suddenly. After that, Les was contemplating leaving, but after meeting Joe and Glenn, he decided to stay. “These friendships are more valuable to me than anything else. Being with Glenn and Joe has given me a foundation in the sense of my recovery from losing my wife.” But just as Les began to get through the grief of his late wife, his son died of a heart attack. “Losing my son left a big hole in my heart. He was so special to me and such a loving man. Having a group to talk about grief with helped me get through that. We’re really a great support system for one another,” he shares.
Having been widowed 14 years, Joe relies on his friendships with Les and Glenn to help him cope with the loss he has experienced during his later years in life. “At a certain age, the friends you have just disappear. You’re sort of like a lone survivor and you have to start all over again. These are the guys that make my life so fulfilling,” he explains.
Glenn’s wife lives in a long-term rehab facility as she’s paralyzed on one side and suffers from dementia. “I visit my wife every day. When we’re together, it’s hard for me to realize that after 62 years of marriage, we have to live separately,” Glenn explains with tears in his eyes, “but I leave my troubles there and when I come back home, I rely on Joe and Les to get me through my grief. They make me forget my troubles for a while, so to have these two guys in my life is invaluable. I appreciate their friendship and love them so much.”
Without these friendships, Glenn, Joe and Les would have very different stories to tell. In just a few years, they’ve created a bond of brotherhood that’s unmatched by any other. This allows them to be a pillar of strength for one another during challenging times, while also being a knee to slap during the happiest of times. What a gift!
STRANGERS TO NEIGHBORS
Betty and Anne talk winning beauty pageants to fighting cancer together.
Imagine living in the same neighborhood your entire childhood. You walk the same route to school, bike down the same streets and play with the same kids. Wouldn’t you think you knew every face and established every friendship? Well, for Ms. Betty Williams and Ms. Anne King, residents of Wesley Woods at St. John Towers in Augusta, that wasn’t the case.
“Betty and I moved to Wesley Woods around the same time four years ago. One day, we got to talking about life when we were kids and realized I used to ride my bike by Betty’s house! It blew my mind that as a little girl, we not only attended the same school and church, but we lived one block from each other and never met until we moved to Wesley Woods 60-some years later!” Anne exclaims.
“It was just an instant friendship...like, meant to be! Anne and I are the best of friends. Everybody knows when you see one, you see two.” Betty adds with a chuckle.
The list of things they have in common goes far beyond coincidence. They are both mothers of pastors, grandmothers, widows and cancer survivors. “At the age of 32, I was told I had six months to live. Now I’m 74 and proud of it!” Anne shouts as she throws her fist up in celebration. They also share the honor of winning awards at “Miss St. John Towers,” a widely attended and highly competitive beauty pageant held in their community each year.
When Betty and Anne’s husbands passed away, they both struggled with living alone. “I was afraid to let a repair man or yard worker in because they would see I was by myself and could break into my house when I was sleeping. I just couldn’t take it any longer. I always knew Wesley Woods was where I wanted to live when the time came,” admits Betty.
After 47 years living in the same home and multiple hospitalizations as she fought cancer, Anne knew it was time for a change, too. “Without Betty’s friendship, the transition to Wesley Woods would’ve been a lot harder for me. She’s just a great friend I can go to and she helps me get through things,” Anne explains.
While Betty and Anne still have a lot of ground to cover, time is on their side. “Wesley Woods has given us both a new lease on life. Our children have peace of mind knowing how happy we are here,” Betty says while she and Anne nod in agreement together.
We’re thankful that Betty and Anne found each other at Wesley Woods, even if it did take almost 60 years to connect!