We said good-bye to an old friend last month. That’s “old” as in years on Earth but also “old” as in long time. We’ve known him for more than half our lives: 40-plus years, which equals all of our Alaska lives. In that time he had been a guide, a mentor, a pain in the neck and a thorn in the side, occasionally all at the same time, but above all he was there to offer help, condolence, lots of fun, and a rather skewed philosophy of life. Someone we could depend on to give us the other side of the story no matter what the story might be.
We visited a lot, discussed the elections, reminisced, and watched the river roll by. He had been in the hospital in Anchorage for two months then decided it was time to come home, at least to the Peninsula. Medical necessity made it impossible for him to return to the homestead and his own bed and his own view but being close-by made it better.
Because of the circumstances, it was necessary that he go to a nursing facility. Family members spent days on the phone and going around visiting nursing homes but no beds were available on the Peninsula or in Anchorage. However, he could have gone to Nome, or Washington State, and probably any number of places in the Western States. At one point, a local interviewer told them that the “perceived need” for more beds in the area has not been acknowledged by those who OK the certificates of need and until then, no more facilities can or will be built.
This issue is also apparent on the Peninsula with a different face while a local day surgery facility tries to set up shop in supposed competition to the Central Peninsula Hospital. With our growing population, and especially with elders moving to or staying in the area for their “Golden Years” (quite recently a headline in the local paper stated that the Peninsula has the oldest demographic in the state), it would seem logical that the necessary needs and services be put in place to accommodate them. Things like that take time, as we all know, and should be started before the need becomes overwhelming and users have to leave the area (again) to get the services they need and/or want.
Because our friend was a private-pay situation, he was finally able to find a place at Riverside Assisted Living in Soldotna. By amazing flexibility of mission on their part, and because some family members are health care professionals who could dedicate their time to nearly round-the-clock care of their relative, he was able to become a resident there. One family member said, “The administrator at Riverside is a Saint. He has gone out of his way to find a way for Dad to be taken care of and to be comfortable.”
Had our friend been dependent on the government for payment, or using Long Term Care insurance, this accommodation would not have been possible because of rules and regulations. Apparently, having an elder law attorney on speed dial might be a good idea as we approach the hurdles in the road to “growing old with dignity.” Certainly, knowing our aging options is a must in these times of fluctuating rules and “government knows best” oversight.
So, while Soldotna was not “home” for him, it was close enough. Many friends visited; the “kids” bundled him up and drove him to the beach one day; he had access to his favorite foods and even a former local politician dropped by a couple of times to give him something to think about. The grandkids dropped in regularly to agitate a little, and above all, his wife of over 60 years was there at all hours to keep him thinking up things for her to “get done.”
The North Road has lost a character, and we and lots of others have lost a good friend. He’ll be missed by his commercial fishing cohorts next season, but somewhere, coffee cup in hand, he’ll be offering a cantankerous view of the world, and hoping his opponent has an opposite one so they can argue. He’ll be in heaven!
Virginia Walters lives in Kenai. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.