In honor of Women’s History Month, Keeping It REAL Caregiving would like to introduce you to a woman who is a living example of creating history—maybe not the kind of history that generates news headlines, but the kind that leaves a lasting impact on others.
In 2009, I made my first, and thus far, only trip to Alaska. As anyone who has traveled to this untamed and wild terrain will tell you, it is breathtakingly beautiful and awe-inspiring.
I stayed at a lodge along the Kenai River, and that is where I met Carylee K.
She was working part time at the lodge, providing guests (mostly anglers and outdoorsmen) with meals and support services.
At first she struck me as rather sharp, curt, and downright edgy. I wasn’t sure if she liked me—or anyone for that matter. But I quickly learned that was simply her “front.”
She was older, but extremely feisty and strong—so strong, in fact, that when we hit the river for a fishing trip and the boat got stuck in low water, she jumped right into the water to help push and dislodge the boat!
During the course of the following week, I had several opportunities to talk with Carylee, and I discovered she was quite an interesting woman with a fascinating background.
Over the years of our friendship, Carylee has shared bits and pieces of her life, her family history-documenting key moments along the way with written accounts, photos and audio recordings.
She came from a family that had played a pivotal role in settling and establishing communities in the Echo region of Utah, in the late 1800's.
Carylee made choices along life’s journey that struck me as bold—especially given the time she came of age.
She was married -more than once - but did not necessarily play the role of a conventional wife. She has talked often and fondly of the man whose last name she still carries.
She had worked as a waitress, with cattle on a farm, held a position as a deputy sheriff, and had driven a bus.
When we met 13 years ago, she was entering the third phase of life. Carylee freely admitted she was getting older but took the advancing years in stride.
Now, all these years later, she still lives in Alaska with her cat, Mocha. She celebrated her 81st birthday March 19th!
How did you end up in Alaska?
I wound up here because I lost my granddaughter and her father in a bad situation. My husband and I needed to get out of Dodge, so we came up here to visit my sister-in-law.
When I came down it was like landing in a forest. I’ve always loved mountains, and I felt like I was home.
I told my husband, ‘You know, I’m moving to Alaska. And if you’d like to come me with me, I’d love to have you with me. But if you don’t, you can stay on the farm. But I’m moving.’
Two days later he said, ‘Uh, I guess we’re moving to Alaska,’ and in 1994 we moved here from Utah.
How do you manage as an elder, especially in Alaska?
The biggest challenge of getting older is your health, of course, but it’s attitude. I’ve had 27 operations and another coming up. You have to believe and have faith in God, because without that, you’re lost.
I think the closer you get to God, the more secure you are in your feelings. If you trust in the Lord and really believe and love Him, then you know the challenges he gives you are all in his plan. We may not know his plan, but he does.
Do you have any help?
I have a personal care attendant, Carlton. He’s been with me almost 15 years. I love him very much. He’s very good to me, and so is his wife. I have 10.5 hours a week with him. I’d probably be in assisted living without his help, which I would not like.
What advice would you give to others about aging?
Approach it with faith. I mean, it depends on your attitude. You can cry for what’s happening to you, or you can be glad for what you learn and then learn from that.
I sometimes ponder how it came to be that my intergenerational friendship with Carylee developed during that one week vacation to Alaska all those years ago.
But I have always believed that everyone crosses our paths for a reason and we are all connected in some way. I'm pretty sure my path crossed with Carylee so I could capture and share her story. I've been threatening for years to write a book detailing her journey. Maybe this article is just the beginning...
I'm thankful for this friendship and I hope all of you have the opportunity to make new friends while closing the generational gap.
Until next time~