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Growing old isn’t so bad with a sister

SHARE Growing old isn’t so bad with a sister

It has been almost three years since they made the painful decision to sell their house, give away all of their belongings and move into the St. Joseph Villa nursing home together.

Now, all that Maudene Gronlund and her sister, Orbie Durham, have left in the world is each other. But with their last days approaching, they say that's more than enough.

"It would have been awful hard to come here without Maudene," says Orbie, casting a loving glance toward her sister, who sits in an adjoining recliner. "We feel lucky that we have each other. Most people have to move in here alone by no choice of their own."

Orbie is 93 years old; Maudene is 92. They wanted to share a Free Lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches and milk in Orbie's room in the hope of giving others an idea of what it's like to grow old and move into an extended care center to spend their final years.

Inseparable all of their lives, except for a 10-year stretch when Orbie married and moved to Montana, the sisters decided several years ago that when their health began failing they would move into St. Joseph's together. "We didn't want one to go without the other," says Maudene.

Because they have outlived their husbands and four younger siblings and neither sister has any children, the pair made all of the arrangements themselves when Orbie became seriously ill and could no longer walk.

"It was a hard adjustment moving from a house of our own to two cramped little rooms," says Maudene, who now uses a cane to get around and is losing her eyesight. "Accepting that you need help is probably the hardest part. When we were younger, we couldn't imagine ourselves where we are now. Who possibly can?"

She and Orbie now spend most of their time in their adjoining rooms, listening to the radio and reminiscing about the days when they helped their parents round up cows on the family farm in Vernal.

"After living together more than 80 years, we get along pretty well," says Orbie. After her husband died, she moved to Salt Lake City and bought a bungalow with Maudene. When Maudene "finally met the right man" and tied the knot at age 64, Orbie stayed on.

"We've always been close — a lot of people used to mistake us for twins," says Maudene, who, like her sister, is sometimes frustrated that her tall and slender frame is now curved and aching from arthritis.

"It's hard to lose your mobility," she says, "but we've learned to make do. When we lose an ability, we replace it with something else. Right now, we're thinking of getting some tapes and learning Spanish." She pauses and laughs. "You might wonder why we'd bother studying anything at our age, but really, why not? We've nothing but time."

The only trouble is, says Orbie, "we don't know how much of it we have left." Her voice saddens as she contemplates what lies ahead in the next couple of years.

"We worry a lot about what will happen to the survivor when one of us dies," she says quietly. "Neither of us wants to leave the other behind."

"We know it's going to happen," adds Maudene, "but I don't know if we've accepted it or not. I don't think you ever really do. Like most anyone, I guess I'm a little scared to face death. I've so enjoyed living."

Her sister nods her head and smiles. "Every day, we get thinner and dimmer, but until our time comes, we've decided we need to enjoy what we have.

"Anymore, all we have is each other's company," says Orbie, "but that's a lot more than some people. When you can spend your days with your sister, growing old isn't so bad."

Have a story? Let's hear it over lunch. E-mail your name, phone number and what's on your mind to freelunch@desnews.com or send a fax to 466-2851. You can also write me at the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.