I am currently employed at an Assisted Living Community in the Activities Department. Because June is the month of weddings we like to celebrate this very special event in the life of our residents. We do so by displaying their wedding pictures, sharing stories, and reminiscing about the past. Hopefully these memories will create avenues for conversation, helping to bridge gaps and build relationships.
The majority of our residents are 90 and over. Sometimes they need a little help remembering, so after our first request we begin to knock on doors as a gentle reminder that we would love to include their photo in our display. When visiting their rooms, residents almost always want to talk about what is on their mind. Whether it be their health, their family, or their fears. This is one of those special opportunities we have to talk with residents one on one. It is important we take time to listen and converse when visiting their home.
Many residents have lost their lifelong partner while living in our community, both names still displayed next to the door of their small apartment. I felt a little hesitant about asking for wedding pictures from those who no longer have their loved one with them, particularly the men. I have only been working at this community for a few weeks so sometimes when I see two names on a plaque I’m not sure if both are still residing in the apartment, if one has moved to a place where they can receive additional assistance, or if one has passed on.
I’m at a room located at the end of the hallway, last door on the left. The plaque next to the door has two names that I do not yet recognize. I knock on the door not knowing if I will be greeted with the voice of a man or woman. This time it is the voice of a man replying, “come in”. As I enter his apartment I first see two parakeets in a cage situated just behind a chair. In this chair facing the sun shining through the window sits a man reading a book. Oh I know this face, he eats his meals in the dining room, often times alone, other times in the company of others. He is always kind and has a gentle, crooked smile. This is a man whose presence and nature bare the truth about him, he is a man of integrity and strength. I greet him and make my request to borrow his wedding photograph for our display. He immediately replies with a “yes”, pointing to the picture directly ahead of him in clear sight on his bookshelf beneath the window. I pick up the picture and tell him how absolutely beautiful his wife looks and remark about her handsome companion. What a wonderful couple. He agrees. We don’t engage in a long conversation as he seems content to read his book in the company of his birds. I assure him we will take special care of his photograph. When I leave the room, I continue to look at the picture and for some reason I am overcome with sadness and comfort at the same time. I stop before continuing on, not wanting anyone to see my tearing eyes. I have more doors to knock on so I tell myself, “pull yourself together!”
I question this reaction, why did this particular resident touch my heart so? Maybe because there is this sense that his is a life well lived. It is evident, that although he now resides alone, the love he shared with his wife is still very much alive in his heart. His room is well lived in with books, birds and photos all around. It is reminiscent of the home he and his wife must have shared; one of love, trials, compassion, and happy family times. As I get older, these are the things that make an impression on me. If I live to be 90 I hope to exude the same qualities and sense of contentment. To have the peace of knowing I’ve lived a good life.
After a lot of self reflection, I left a more technical and much higher paying position to work at the Assisted Living Community. I’ve asked myself several times, “Am I crazy, did I make the wrong decision?” This moment tells me no, I didn’t. This is what I wanted. To live a more meaningful life doing something that makes a difference in someone else’s. And then I realize, these are the people who are making a difference in mine.