A self-declared broke college student has shared beautiful memories of an unforgettable friendship with 95-year-old Phylis, a woman she became fast friends with after accepting a job to “babysit” her. Despite holding no qualifications – and a language barrier – Phylis and Hailey Spinks were a perfect match.
Sharing her story via The Insider, New Jersey-based Hailey said she first met Phylis in 2021 after she went to Facebook to find a job to pay for her college bill. She offered various services, such as writing, editing, cleaning, babysitting and dog walking. It came with a simple call to action, “Help your local college student pay her tuition”. Although Hailey received several calls, there was one that stood out.
“The woman on the other end asked whether I would be interested in babysitting a few times a week. The catch, which I wouldn’t know until I arrived, was that I would be “babysitting” her bedridden 95-year-old mother, Phylis,” Hailey explained.
“Kim, the woman who called me, was 62 and recovering from spinal surgery. And her sister, Connie, was their mom’s full-time caregiver. Between caring for Kim, who lived next door, and tending to Phylis, Connie needed an extra hand.
“Despite having zero qualifications to handle caring for a woman that age, I was hired on the spot. And so began my days of spoon-feeding her oatmeal and watching Family Feud for $20 an hour.”
At the time, Hailey was also working a full-time internship, albeit remotely, and so she would visit Phylis several times each week before starting work. The pair would spend many mornings together and they quickly bonded over a love of Costco free samples, knitting and Italian food.
Despite some language barriers, including Phylis not always having the energy to speak, they shared stories about Phylis’ life as a teacher and Hailey’s experiences at college and work.
“She struggled to talk, or, more so, I struggled to understand what she was saying a lot of the time, but we managed to build a meaningful connection, which mostly entailed me yelling loudly into her ear and her responding with nods,” Hailey added.
“On days she didn’t quite have the energy to talk, she would hold my hand as she slept, and I’d work on my internship. My internship team grew to love Phylis, and she became integral to our morning project discussions, smiling into the Zoom camera from her bed in the background.”
The heartwarming friendship grew into a family dynamic. Phylis met Hailey’s boyfriend, and she often told her “babysitter” how beautiful she was and that she loved her. As an adopted daughter, Hailey even had a sleepover alongside Phylis’ two adult daughters and they all watched Family Feud.
Sadly, Phylis has since passed away, with Hailey detailing how she had to rush over on the stormy night of her peaceful death.
“Kim called me in the middle of the night. She begged me to go to Phylis’ house because her sister wasn’t answering the phone and there was an ambulance illuminating her living room in red and blue from the street. She had a feeling that something terrible had happened, and there was no one else available to check,” Hailey said.
“It was storming so badly outside that I was terrified to walk to my car. When I came running into Phylis’ living room, it was clear Kim was right. Phylis lay pale and unmoving, and Connie sat by her bedside, crying. I instantly felt sick to my stomach.”
But this story did not have a sad ending. In fact, quite the opposite. While there was sadness in the loss of Phylis, it brought together two generations in a way no one could have imagined. That kind of intergenerational impact has been on show here in Australia through the Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds/Teenagers with the ABC TV shows highlighting how breaking down ageism barriers boosts mental health, longevity and learning.
Hailey said that as much as Phylis needed her support and companionship, she needed her, too. COVID-19’s affected young and old, shrinking worlds and making everyone take the time to appreciate the good things in life.