Some days at work it feels like the planets are aligned either 100% for me, or 200% against me. I almost always love working in assisted living, but I have to admit, the rough days are tough. On these days, every resident seems to have some sort of problem that needs solving, I’m up to my ears in dirty laundry, bowel movements are, (ahem), flowing faster than normal…all combined up in a grand mess that makes me wish that it was a few hours later and I could finally just crawl into bed and curl into a little ball. Two days ago, this was the case. To make matters even more interesting, I had decided to take a run before work (bad idea, Rachel) which somehow managed to zap the energy right out of me. In a nutshell, I came in to work ready to go home.
Despite my best intentions, however, the day did not slip away but dragged on through dinner time. And it was at this moment, as I was staring down at my leaden feet while clearing tables, that I overheard a conversation between two residents. One woman, a nearly deaf Midwesterner with a deliciously unique gravely voice, was trying to tell another resident about her observations of a Valentine’s Day ornament that was hanging near the window. The decoration in question is one that I had barely noticed: a two-colored spiral hanging from the ceiling that twists and spins delicately as a breeze catches it, displaying first one side’s color and the other side’s color. She said, “Isn’t it interesting how it twists and turns and when it does, it changes color? Do you notice? It’s so beautiful! I can’t stop looking at it.” (Remember, this lovely woman speaks in a deep gravely voice which made her particular comment all the more delightful.)
At that moment, I stopped feeling sorry for myself. What I realized was this: I had been busy wishing the day away when really, there was still plenty to be grateful for and enraptured by. This old woman, nearly 100 years old, probably has many more reason than I do to feel sorry for herself, and yet, here she was, beaming childish wonder and delight at a silly ornament hanging from the ceiling. Quite suddenly, my entire perspective changed, and so did the day. Nothing seemed as important, and I was able to focus on the funny and cute things my residents were sharing with me. Granted, my feel still felt heavy – but that was my fault for going running before an 8-hour shift!
As I cleared more plates, I noticed another resident staring mournfully down at her dessert plate. I asked her, “Is there something wrong, Sherry?*” She sighed and looked up at me from her plate of icing-drizzled brownie and cornbread muffin. “No, nothing’s wrong but I am just sad that I feel so full. Both of these are just so eat-able!” I laughed and then said, “But Sherry, I think your age has certainly earned you the right to eat dessert if you want it!” She replied, “No, not tonight, but if there is a certain person in the kitchen who is hungry, you can just tell her that I haven’t touched this!” And she winked at me.
Later that night, after spending an hour helping Addie get ready for bed, I was finally close to being able to go home. I could almost taste my bed. It no longer felt as important anymore, but I was still quite tired. Addie called to me as I was turning off the lights in her room and collecting the bags of trash. I sighed, unable to help myself from hoping she didn’t need to use the bathroom again and said, “Yes, Addie?”
She peered up at me from her carefully tucked-in covers and said sweetly, “I can’t wait until I can see you again.” – a pause – “Because you’re kind and gentle and you always do as I want you to do.” She nodded once, resolutely, and then laid her hairnet-covered head back down on her pillow and finished quietly, “And I love you.”
My heart filled up so much in that moment, it felt like it would truly burst, and I replied, “I love you too, Addie. Sweet dreams.”
The bad days really aren’t that bad, after all.
* Names changed