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The following is an abridged interview with Senior Companion members, Anna Sobotka and Pauline Baker. The interview was conducted in August by Gloria Heffernan and Beth Broadway in Baker’s home.
Gloria Heffernan (GH): Tell me how long you have been involved with senior companions, and what makes it important to you.
Anna Sobotka (AS) : I’ve been in the program eleven or twelve years. And before that I had worked for Catholic Charities with kids who had been abused. After I retired, someone told me about this program so I said; I should be able to do that. So I went and signed up and I loved the program. I love the people I work with. And I spoil all of my clients. And I think it’s one of the best things they’ve got for the elderly because they need a lot of help. I had one case named Lily and she would never listen to nobody. She was a very mean grouchy old person. And the first day I was there, she changed. She was an all together turned around person because she had someone to talk to.
GH : And it’s not just someone. It’s what you brought to that. What do you think that is?
AS: I guess it’s because I talk a lot and I smile and I try to call them honey, and they are. I call them all that.
GH: What do you think made the difference between you and other companions?
AS: She never kept them. I don’t know. I always asked her and she said, “Because you make me laugh.” And I make her feel good. And then at the store we laugh. And then we’d laugh about what we were eating. And then we’d fight about who’s going to buy the pie. And just certain little things. But I’ve always been a very congenial person and I like it.
GH: What is it that makes the SC relationship different from other things, like a home health aide?
AS: I think it’s because we are better natured. We are seniors ourselves. So we know what those seniors are going through. So we know how to act with them. With them I’m always cheerful, chipper, no matter what I feel.
Beth Broadway (BB): In other words, you don’t take your problems to your clients.
AS: I mean, Pauline knows about what’s happening now, and she’s very upset
GH: Well, I think this is good, because it shows us what a one-on-one relationship that the program has helped to develop. So, Pauline, how long have you been Anna’s client?
Pauline Baker (PB): A couple of years.
AS: But I’ve known her for a long time and I’ve helped her out practically from the day she came in here.
GH: And what do you like about being part of the SC program?
PB: Well, I don’t know what I would do without her. I’m kind of scared about her going in (to the hospital). It could go either way.
GH: Well, it sounds like Anna’s got a great attitude and that has a lot to do with healing.
PB: I told her she’s too mean to give up.
AS: That’s what she told me. Ann, get mad!
GH: Sounds like good medical advice! What are some of the things that you and Anna talk about when you get together?
AS: She has a lot of problems here and when she gets into those problems, she comes down here and we discuss the best way that SHE can handle it. And then SHE handles it. I don’t get into it at all. I just help her find the best way that she can handle it.
AS: She was abused. She got beaten up by some people.
PB: — and these people I was living with. I was trying to be nice. They practically wiped my bank account right out. And the cops came and said do you want her arrested and I said yes so I stayed in a shelter a long time.
GH: So when you started working with Ann, what did that mean to you having come from such a troubling situation?
PB: I don’t know. Now I’m just backing away from people who start problems.
GH: Do you have a favorite memory of an experience you have shared with Anna?
PB: A lot of things. She makes me feel comfortable. I could trust her.
GH: What makes this relationship important to you?
PB: We go out shopping together, and when I need something, she’s always there.
GH: I have a question for you Pauline, What is your favorite thing to do with Ann?
GH: My kind of girl, where do you like to go shopping?
PB: They take me over to, Wall-mart, K-mart, and the crafts store
GH: Oh, what kind of crafts do you do?
AS: She painted a real beautiful bird house. Dan and I take her to pick up the little things she needs for the crafts. Because it’s good for her to go and do that.
PB: I love to paint. When I am doing that, I don’t shake.
GH: Did you ever do a painting for Ann?
GH: Well that’s good to have a hobby like that and to have someone you can share it with. Do you ever paint together?
AS: Oh no! I don’t paint!
GH: So you paint, and you get to enjoy it. Sounds like a good exchange! What other things do you like to do together?
AS: Sometimes we eat together. If I am going to eat, I make some extra so she can have some. Because it’s hard for her to really cook.
PB: I cook for myself pretty good. I do my own cleaning.
GH: That’s very impressive.
AS: We buy each other birthday presents, Christmas presents. We have a little party down here, huh?
PB: She gave me a beautiful doll.
GH: That’s good, very good. What do you want people to know about the importance of having a companion who is also a senior? What does she understand that say a college student volunteer wouldn’t understand?
PB: I don’t get along with the young people because; I think it’s hard for me to trust them. After what happened to me it took me a long time to trust Eleanor and Doris.
GH: So having a senior companion who is closer to your age, means that you can trust them more easily?
GH: Is it because they’ve been through their own struggles and you can share those struggles? And that gives you a certain level of comfort?
PB: Yeah, and Ann understands what I’ve been through.
AS: I sure do.
PB: And it took me almost years to trust Eleanor and Doris. You see a lot of things I keep trying to put it behind me. It’s awful hard to understand how people will understand that. There are very few people I trust. I just don’t think I can ever trust anyone too much. Even now, if I go out, and come home, and somebody from this building come down and accuse me for doing something. And I don’t know how to handle it.
GH: Well I am really grateful that you trusted me enough to let me hear your story, so thank you for that. It really shows how important it is to have, not just a “senior companion”, but a real friend who’s there for you.
AS: You know she never knew her own mother; she didn’t know her name or her last name. . I mean, there’s a lot that Pauline has achieved over time herself. She has come from a little girl who didn’t know her ABC’s to counting or anything, and look at her now. She has to go to school, what’s the name?
PB: Phyllis Rehabilitation.
AS: She goes down there for senior days; they’ve been teaching her how to read. And she’s doing so well, she really is. She’s really come a long way.
PB: In a couple weeks I’ll be graduating!
GH: Wow, good for you. Congratulations.
GH: May I ask, Pauline how old you are?
GH: Holy molly. You sure don’t look it.
PB: When I had triple by-pass, I had it on a Monday and the following day I was walking down the hallway in the hospital. The doctor almost tripped.
AS: Before her very best friend died, she used to have one of these big wheelchairs. They used to walk in the winter time down to Price Chopper to get groceries, colder than what. I’d be coming home and here she is with two gallons of milk in the thing and pushing down the wheelchair.
GH: Wow, you’re something.
PB: And I said to Ann she got to come back, I don’t want to find another (friend?).
AS: I told you, I am too damn mean to do anything like that. Besides I have a lot of work to do.
PB: I know.
GH: Yeah, I don’t think Ann’s going anywhere.
AS: I have to go into rehab soon. They told me if I be a good girl and do what they say I could get out earlier, for the last time I am hoping. They say it’s very painful. I had a bypass like her too.
GH: Wow you ladies are tough!
BB: It’s going to be a little reverse here; you’re going to have to be her senior companion for a while.
GH: I think she’ll be in good hands
AS: As long as I sit there and she sits here, and makes me laugh and she laughs. You know.
GH: Ann, what’s your favorite thing about being a senior companion?
AS: I love my people. I really hate to see them get hurt. It makes me mad when people talk about them or say bad things to them. I get really upset, and I know I should shut them off.
GH: And Ann, how old are you?
AS: I turned 78, just yesterday.
GH: I would have never guessed that.
AS: Oh really? Yep, 78.
GH: I think this has been one of the best conversations I’ve had in a long time. So I thank you both. Ann is there anything that you would like to add?
AS: No, I just think she’s come a long way from that little girl who moved in here.
GH: A lot of help from you in getting there.
GH: And Pauline, I am going to give you the last word. What is your favorite thing abouT the senior companion program?
PB: Somebody I can talk to, and understand.