When Senior Storytelling Comes Home


For most of my life I only had one grandparent, and thankfully she lived right in my hometown of Wichita, Kansas. Mildred, or Gammie as I fondly call her, was born on the Fourth of July – and boy is she independent, as if she embodied that spirit of the Fourth of July. She taught me many lifelong lessons as I sat, listening and watching attentively.

Her life hadn’t always been easy. She grew up during the Great Depression and lived through the Dust Bowl, one of six children on a small farm. Later in life – as a single mom – she raised three children while humbly waiting tables, eventually marrying a Navy veteran who had severe post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments from surviving two wars.

I spent a great deal of time with her as I grew up, and as she has aged, I’ve been helping her more and more. When she was diagnosed with macular degeneration, colon cancer, or needed a double knee replacement, she took it all on in stride, overcoming whatever came her way as she has done her whole life.

Now at 86 years old, she lives alone in a one bedroom apartment unable to drive due to her diminished eye sight. She brings in help a few hours a week to assist with grocery shopping, cleaning and other errands. Her doctor recently told us that she has a diminished capacity, or early-stage dementia. We had seen the warning signs for a while, but there’s something about hearing those words that strikes you to your core. Thankfully, this news came at the perfect time, as if there ever is one. I knew exactly what our family needed to do.

Susan with Grandma

After a few months working at Forté, coordinating public relations for senior living communities across the country, I have had the privilege to talk with seniors my Gammie’s age who are truly thriving in these communities. I’ve heard story after story about how much they love the food, activities and other amenities. Working in this environment inspired me to talk openly with my family and my grandma about the benefits of moving to a senior living community. However, convincing Ms. Independent she needed help was a whole other issue.

Forté is a wonderful place to work not only because we get to tell the special stories of our clients through their residents, but because it is a team that has had many seniors impact their lives. Each person on staff has their own personal story of overcoming obstacles with a loved one as they aged. Their advice and direction has been of great support to me. The reason we’re able to tell these stories so well is because we’ve lived them.

This week, Gammie is set to move into a senior living community not far from her home and is actually looking forward to it, I am happy to say. My mom was able to pick out an apartment just the right size for her with a terrace where my Gammie has room to plant flowers, one of her favorite hobbies. I know she will adjust well there because I know her young spirit is still so very alive and looking for purpose as she begins this new stage in her life. I look forward to seeing her adjust well to life where she is able to make friends, have fun and truly live her life again.

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