- Written by Jessica Riel
- Published: 12 April 2018
Finding the right kind of support through Adult Family Care
Herb Michelson, recently turned 92, lives with Marty, an energetic young fellow who loves good food and good company.
"Marty is my beloved,” says Herb. “He's a dog. And he's my best friend in the whole world. Every dog I've had, save one, were my best friends in the whole world. And when I had five dogs, they were all my best friends in the whole world. Have I made myself clear? I like dogs.”
Herb’s other beloved is his departed wife, Persis. They met while Herb was working as a psychotherapist in New York. “We were a unit. It didn't matter when we got married. We got married the first time we spoke. And I still am married,” says Herb. “I'm old-fashioned.”
Persis got her Masters in Social Work from Smith College, and she and Herb raised their son, Kevin, here in the Pioneer Valley.
After Persis passed away of lung cancer in the late 90s, Kevin and their daughter-in-law, Savita, built an addition onto their home in Hadley, and Herb and Lady, his dog at the time, moved in.
Herb enjoys living so close to his son but also having his independence. “I like it when he comes in and we talk especially. His entire life we've talked a lot. That's why I knew it was safe to come and live here and we weren't going to get into a symbiotic kind of relationship. He lets me live, and I let him live. But if ever I need anything,” says Herb, “all I have to do is call.”
Sometimes, says Herb, he’ll call because he’s dropped something. “I drop things a whole lot because of this miserable vision and because of my 92 years, I suppose.” Savita comes and helps him find it.
“In the morning Kevin wants to make my breakfast,” says Herb, “but I won't let him. Although the past two days he has brought me coffee because I just haven't been in a mood to make it.”
Herb, Kevin, and Savita are all supported in helping to maintain Herb’s independence thanks to the Adult Family Care Program at LifePath, which operates in Hampshire County where their home is, as well as in Franklin County, the North Quabbin, and Hampden County. For elders like Herb who need a little extra help to maintain their independence, and even for people as young as 16 who cannot live alone safely because of medical, physical, cognitive, or mental health challenges, Adult Family Care helps to find and offer individualized support in a nurturing home environment.
Through Adult Family Care, Savita receives a tax-exempt stipend to care for Herb and has a team from LifePath to turn to for training, monthly visits, and support that’s just a phone call or email away in Rachel Weitz, nurse, and Melanie Young, social worker.
For Herb, however, the relationship with Adult Family Care has answered more of an emotional and psychological need. “One of the greatest gifts of my later life were these two,” Herb says of Rachel and Melanie during a recent visit. “I love them. I've asked them to live upstairs, but they won't,” he laughs.
At times when Herb felt lonely and without purpose, he says, Rachel and Melanie “made me feel like a human being. They really made me feel like I should continue to live, because I thought, ‘What am I here for?’ But they've been a high spot in my later life.”
Even as Herb has lost some of his hearing and vision, making aspects of life that he most enjoys more challenging, Rachel and Melanie have been there with solutions. For example, Herb loves to read, but traditional books have become a challenge with his vision impairment. Melanie and Rachel reached out to a service at Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown that provides free equipment for audio books and other materials for eligible people.
“They saw a need. They filled it. You know what I mean? I didn't have to ask or plead or anything,” says Herb. “It's just who they are, how they behaved, and their readiness to help me.” In addition to the audio books, he has a special magnifier for his computer, and he also has a Kindle, which allows for the adjustment of text size. All of this helps to keep his mind active. “I like to think a lot,” says Herb. “When you get old, you do want to deal with the imponderables.”
Herb has spent some time thinking about what he would do if he didn’t have a home here with his son. “I would have scraped every cent that I could and bought maybe an acre or 100 feet, I don't care, and lived in the hills with Marty,” he says. “I would have lived in the hills by myself either in a cabin if I could afford it or a tent if I couldn't – or a sleeping bag if I couldn't afford a tent. I would not live in a city. And that's where I would be. My greatest pleasure has been to be in the woods and just sit there or walk there and be there. To me, that's my cathedral.”
But such an isolated life would be a challenge to anyone in their old age, and Herb appreciates the support he has received from his family and Adult Family Care. “Because here I turn the lights on; I push a button, I get heat,” he says. Perhaps even more importantly, Herb still has ways to stay engaged with the world. “You know, there's lots of old folks around who, unfortunately, sit alone and they're not stimulated. You know what I mean? I won't let that happen to me.”
When asked to describe his experience with Adult Family Care in one sentence, Herb pauses a moment before replying, simply, “Thank you.”
He then adds, “When my wife was really happy with something that was done, she'd say, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ So I reiterate that. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
To learn more about the Adult Family Care program, or how you can provide an enriching home environment for a loved one or be matched with someone in need, contact us.