As an adolescent growing up in San Nicolas in the Ilocos Norte region of the Philippines, Merlita Compton spent many hours at the side of her grandmother, the town’s lone midwife.
She saw, of course, the deference and admiration her grandmother received by those who sought her help at all hours, but what most impressed her was the joy and love that radiated from the old lady herself, that quiet, still satisfaction of being of service to someone else.
"I followed her and helped her from the time I was 11 years old," Compton said. "To this day I see her in me."
While Compton’s grandmother spent her career welcoming the next generation to the world, Compton has devoted her life to preserving the health and vitality of those on the opposite end of the aging continuum.
After leaving the Philippines, Compton settled in Hilo and spent a decade working at the Life Care Center, a long-term care facility. She later moved to Honolulu, where she earned a master’s of public health in gerontology.
As a program director for the nonprofit community organization Kokua Kalihi Valley’s elderly services section, Compton helps local seniors stay healthy and engaged with their community. Four times a week her December charges gather to exercise, socialize, sing, dance and do all the little things that help resist the winding reel of time.
"We don’t just hand them a wheelchair," Compton says. "We try to help them get whatever help they may need, from medical or dental care to insurance to helping them stay at home with their family rather than going to a nursing home. It means a lot to me to help people still enjoy living despite whatever limitations they may have."
Compton says she learns at least as much from her clients as they do from her. Through their reminiscences she gets a better understanding of the world she has inherited. Through their daily challenges, she gets a glimpse of what awaits her and a chance to prepare for the life she wants to have.
"When I’m their age I want to be active," she says. "I want to have fun activities to do and chances to socialize. I want to take care of my health and nutrition. We all need a balance of these things to age well.
"I love my job because I learn from them all the time," she says. "And when you can share loving compassion with an individual or a group and see the results, it’s very rewarding."
Today, Compton will escort a group of 60 spirited seniors to ‘Iolani Palace, where they will perform the song "Good Luck, Good Health, God Bless You" at the inauguration of Neil Abercrombie and Brian Schatz. Offstage she will beam with pride as her chorus of friends rises to full voice. And, no doubt, she will radiate with her own kind of joy and love.
Reach Michael Tsai at email@example.com.