94-year-old Meals on Wheels client, Arlee, has lived and worked in Orange County since the 1940s. For 32 of her working years she worked at various Ford dealerships, and she also enjoyed working in a variety of other settings at various times throughout her career. But despite all her years in the workplace, Arlee’s real life calling has been to champion others through caregiving. Arlee’s unwavering commitment to the compassionate care of her father, her mother, her neighbor, her neighbor’s wife—and finally, her husband, makes her a true champion.
Arlee was first called to caregiving at the age of 25 when she moved her bedbound father into her home. Caring for her father was physically challenging and required a strong back. Without a wheel chair, it was necessary to “pack saddle” her father to the bathroom several times a day, When he slipped down in the bed, Arlee would stand on the back of the bed and pull him back up to a comfortable position. Looking back, Arlee believes the strain of lifting her father was the primary cause of chronic back issues that surfaced later in life.
Not long after her father passed, Arlee’s mother was hospitalized and released with a devastating prognosis; she was expected to live just nine or ten days and would require 24 hour care. Since Arlee was the only sibling without children of her own, she decided she would be the one to care for her mom, and she did so until her mother passed twelve years later.
After Arlee’s mother passed, a close friend and neighbor named Tom requested that Arlee become caregiver for his ailing wife. Arlee and her husband Jerry graciously agreed to help until she died four years later. Soon thereafter, Tom fell ill and Arlee cared for him until his passing.
When Arlee’s husband, Jerry, was diagnosed with lung cancer, they both knew he was next in line for Arlee’s tender caregiving.
Then, tragically, after years and years of taking care of others, Arlee broke her back: In an instant, Arlee, the caregiver became Arlee, the care-receiver.
She says, “I hate that I’m in the position that I’m in because I’ve been so active all of my life. It kind of affects my pride.” Since all Arlee’s friends had aged and were in poor health, they weren’t able to help provide Arlee with the basic necessities she needed to remain living independently. Fortunately, Arlee reached out to one of Meals on Wheels Orange County’s case workers, who in turn arranged to have healthy, nutritious meals delivered to her home each day. Arlee is beyond grateful for the help. She said, “If it wasn’t for Meals on Wheels, I don’t think I would be living. That’s how important it is to me…and I’m sure it’s important to the other people that can’t help themselves.”