According to the statistics, nearly one third of the elderly population in the United States falls each year, and not surprisingly, the risk of falls increases as they get older. The severity of the injuries determines the degree of his/her physical disability.
Sonia Lerner, 72, who lives in an assisted-living facility in Overland Park, fell about 10 years ago and permanently lost her ability to walk. Yet, her “sunny” disposition gained her a new name — Sunny.
This misfortune happened when she and her younger brother Terry lived in the home of their older brother Mick in Overland Park. She remembers that particular afternoon quite clearly: She had picked up an armful of books and magazines at a library, and coming home, she walked down the staircase to her room in the lower-level when her foot skidded and she lost her balance. The books escaped her arms and she rolled down fast and landed on the carpeted floor hard. She does not remember how long she was there, but she does remember being carried to her room by her two brothers later that day.
Soon, she was admitted to a rehabilitation institute in Kansas City and began treatments, but she didn’t improve. Two years later, she was transferred to her current residence.
What is it like confined in bed, day and day out?
“You must go on with life,” she said, her expression serious. “What else can you do?”
Between her words, I hear her message: Life is given to us without a promissory note guaranteeing privileges and bonuses. Instead of dwelling on what I’ve lost, I choose to appreciate what I have.
“The nursing staff here is wonderful,” Sunny said. “It takes two people to move me for simple chores like going to the bathroom or to the dining room, but they do it with care and dedication every time. If anything, my present situation helped me appreciate life more than I used to when I was independent and did everything for myself.”
She fondly remembers the clerical job she had held for “nine years and 34 days” at the local Jewish Vocational Services, which ended a few years before her fall, and how kind her boss and the director of that department, Howard Weiss, had been to her. While she has been inside these walls, time ticked on, and her nephews and nieces have grown older like herself, and her grandnephews and grandnieces are now adults — one of them graduating college soon. (Sunny had been married once but didn’t have children.)
Some of her friends have passed away, and her younger brother Terry, too, died this past January, which has been very difficult for her. But again, you must move on with life.
Her expression brightening, she talked about a few visiting musicians, including a retired band leader, who entertain the residents with popular songs on a violin or a guitar or on a harp, a pianist who leads a sing-along, and me, a cellist who plays the old-time American music, including Stephen Foster’s songs, Negro spirituals, and some light classical music.
Talk of music reminded Sunny of her mother, who passed away seven years earlier at age 99. Miriam Lerner had served as a board member of the Kansas City Philharmonic (now the Symphony), while German conductor Hans Schwieger was the music director between 1948-1973.
“Mom played the violin in her younger days, and there was always music in the house when we were kids. In fact, my father too was an ardent music lover and supported the Philharmonic financially. That was the reason the whole family attended the orchestra concert for years.”
Her father, Joseph S. Lerner, owned about 20 women’s garment retail stores called J.S. Lerner’s Vogue in Kansas City that no longer exist today.
“My music appreciation today is a great gift from both of my parents,” Sunny said. “While listening, the beauty of music somewhat liberates me and I don’t think about my disabilities.”
Retired musician and freelance columnist Therese Park has written three novels about Korea’s modern history.