Today one of my dear patients, in a full and far-reaching session, which began with the inner demons that haunt her, went back to the punitive nuns with their painful rulers, and ended with her realizing that she wants to do volunteer work, mentioned her (92 year old) mother-in law.* I already knew about this as it's a regular part of her life. She takes her every week to Bingo (and stays with her there), sometimes she takes her out to eat, occasionally she drives her to the beauty salon (again, patiently stays through the entire 'perm' process), and brings her home for family dinner some Sundays.
She loves her mother-in-law; they love each other. And I think they are friends, in a way. But what Nancy does for her is generous and kind. She says it isn't hard for her, that it's part of her nature. She knows how to look for her mother-in-law's hints (mom won't ask directly to go to a restaurant), how to help her with changing seats at the beauty salon, etc. She observes her charge and responds accordingly. Recognizing that to do this for her relative is not a chore but something that she does naturally is what led to her self-discovery that she enjoys helping others and to the idea of looking into doing volunteer work.
Usually, people were understanding, tried to help us, if needed, and were friendly. I always had the impression that they felt happy to see an older person being patiently accompanied and assisted.
I know that this is how I feel when I see it. In fact, the other day, I had to wait overly long in a grocery store line because the customer ahead of me was elderly and had some slowness in his ability to process the business with the checker. The checker was so nicely helpful. But, then she apologized to me for the wait. I said that the apology wasn't necessary, that I was glad to see someone helping an older person so gently and respectfully.
*I included that brief overview of a session for those of you who are curious or interested in how therapy goes.