It’s not every day you get the chance to interview a 104-year-old woman. So when that chance came to me yesterday, I brought along my 8-year-old daughter. After passing on what I knew – that this woman was feisty and none too thrilled about being asked a bunch of questions – she looked at me and said, “I’m scared.”
The story was this: Two women in Upstate New York had started a crowdfunding campaign to help Nona Schurman, a former professional modern dancer, remain independent in her own apartment. She has no immediate family, lives almost exclusively on Social Security, and uses her savings to pay for part-time, in-home aid workers who help with personal care, shopping, cooking and cleaning. By the end of 2014 her savings account will be depleted and she’ll be forced to enter a nursing home.
I learned about the campaign through an email blast, pitched it to my local newspaper, and showed up yesterday to find out more about this woman who canoed well into her eighties and is writing a book on choreography.
Though her tone was gruff, she welcomed us into her home and showed us our seats, explaining that the top snap on her housecoat never wants to stay closed. Then I took a notebook and pen out of my purse.
“I don’t understand what you want,” she said. “You’re a reporter?”
“Well, that’s disappointing. Go ahead.”
I turned to my daughter and let out a surprised chuckle. I began to talk to Nona about her situation, but she interrupted me to argue that she was not in danger of losing her apartment, that the management said she could live rent-free for as long as she wanted, and that people should get the story straight. I wasn’t going to tell her she’s confused and wrong. Immediately I dropped the notebook and pen back into my purse and apologized for any inconvenience. I’d heard that it had taken a lot for her to agree to a story about her in the first place, that she was a proud woman who didn’t want to accept help from strangers, and it certainly didn’t feel like my place to push the issue. Over her stream of objections, I stood up, motioned for my daughter to follow, and apologized for any misunderstanding. That’s what she needed to hear.
Then her voice changed.
“Will you do this snap for me?”
Her face had softened, too, and as she stood there, bent over her walker, looking at me hopefully, my heart ached. Here was this woman who wanted nothing more than to be in control of her life, yet she needed someone – anyone – to help her get dressed. When she shut the door, I said, “I need a hug.”
I called my editor and told her the story was a bust. But I still feel a need to share it, so here it is, as well as a link for more information:
I’d love to hear what you think.