Unhappy families have complicated problems that don’t get solved, and that leave each individual unhappy. Happy families solve their problems with simple tools—for example, by courage in the face of hard work. Unhappy families are racked by selfishness and antagonism; happy families have concern for each individual and value cooperation more than argument. Happy families divide work: strength and enthusiasm from the young, experience and understanding from the old.
The title of this series about Gracedale is not my invention. They are words spoken by one of Gracedale’s residents, who knows Gracedale from within and who knows what Gracedale is able to do.
Louise Keppel worked her entire life (including some years at Gracedale, caring for the elderly). Having lost her mother at age 15, Louise was blessed with five of her own children. But through accident and illness, four of her children have died. When her daughter was killed in a highway accident, Louise took it on herself to raise five grandchildren. “The youngest was two,” she says, “and he made it easier for me.”
Finally, after a lifetime caring for others, Louise reached retirement. However she suffered a serious fall that broke her back and sustained other injuries that confine her to a wheelchair. She is able to take a few steps now and then but she entered Gracedale four years ago to get the 24-hour care she needs.
Louise says Gracedale has saved her life and has given her health back to her. “I received therapy for my hands and now I can crochet again,” she says. Louise is busy from morning to night, helping with patient announcements, playing a mean game of poker (“just with chips, gambling would be illegal”) and staying actively involved with everyone around her.
Louise lives in a spotless private room filled with sunshine, family photos and other personal mementos. She often waves hello to staff members and wishes they had more time to spend with patients. “They need more help. They are working every minute.” (I can verify that every staff member I encountered during my visit, from the nurses’ station to the cleaners in the halls, was busy every minute I visited.)
Louise spoke of her admiration for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and how “he cared for people.” Louise would like other leaders to show the same spirit. And in fact for the FIRST time in her life she registered and voted for the first time last year. I expect she will stay involved and aware of politics, especially as they relate to Gracedale, for the rest of her life.
Louise spoke openly about her feelings and brought up one topic that allowed me to ask, “Do you think about dying?” Louise calmly replied “Yes, sometimes I think I’m ready to go. But other times it seems I have more to do.”
What do you want the public to know about Gracedale? “They don’t know what they missing!” Louise says that her life in retirement was isolated, except for family visits. But she feels Gracedale is giving her something wonderful that is making this time in her life the best.
Not everybody achieves a good balance between awareness of themselves and a meaningful connection to others. But I believe that Louis Keppel has achieved that balance, with Gracedale’s help. Perhaps if others would get to know Louise, her resident neighbors and the Gracedale staff, the gifts of a happy family might be spread a little further in the world.