Ahhh, it has been awhile since I have had a good story to share. And now, I do. And also, I have the yeasty sweet aromas of baking bread coming from my oven (this is attempt number 3 of a beer bread recipe that I am trying to perfect before sharing it). Life sure is good.
I visited my assisted living home for the first time in more than a month yesterday. Two weeks before I leave on a journey to New York, I simply couldn’t leave without saying goodbye again, at least figuratively. But I put it off for a while, and there’s reason why (although misguided) that I was nervous.
It’s such a small, interconnected world. When one of my residents passed away recently, I heard through four different sources about it. Three friends and coworkers let me know via phone and in person, and a fourth coworker let me know yesterday. I was at the gym, powering away on the elliptical. Oblivious to all events around me, I was totally focused on the magazine in front of me – intently trying to decipher the tiny words from the vantage of my bouncing eyeballs. A disembodied voice said, “Hi Rachel!” I looked up, a little brain muddled. It was a med tech that I recognized from work. We chit-chatted. She let me know about Addie’s* passing, and then told me a funny story. Something like this: The med tech, we’ll call her Cassie, knew that I had given all of my residents hand-painted picture frames when I left as a small token of my love and appreciation for our time spent together. Clearly, I didn’t expect many of my residents to remember where these picture frames hailed from. But this story beat my expectations, hands down. Cassie observed the picture frame of one resident while she was passing medications. This resident has a funny memory – sometimes it’s fairly shoddy (like when she calls to go to the bathroom 10 times in an hour or asks you the same question 3 times, once a minute) but other times it’s great and she’s sharp at a tack. This was not one of those times. Cassie asked her, “This is pretty. Who gave you this nice picture frame?” Nelly* responded, “Oh, well, actually it’s actually interesting. I didn’t even know her. This nice young lady just gave it to me. I have no idea who she is.” Cassie smiled and with a little glint in her eyes followed up with, “Wow, that’s so nice. You know, everyone who meets you, loves you so much. Even strangers!” Nelly agreed with her. And then Cassie laughed and said, “No silly, Rachel gave it to you, don’t you remember?” Nelly thought about it and replied, “No, I don’t remember her. She must be new.”
I love that story. I wish Cassie hadn’t even told her that someone had given it to her that she should remember. I love that Nelly just agreed that a stranger must love her, and therefore she had given her a present. As simple as that. Why not? I wish I could give presents to strangers! I wish I could receive birthday gifts without worrying about whether I had remembered the gifter’s own birthday the previous year. Total enjoyment of a gift. But that’s a tangent. The ultimate message to me? Old people can teach young people so much. My Lifespan Psychology textbook claimed that the perception of old people as being wise was really just a stereotype and possibly a myth. I think that’s just baloney (although for the most part, that textbook rocked). But that part was false. Old people ARE wise. I learned a lot from them.
So, walking into the assisted living home, I was less fearful of not being remembered and just plain excited to be there and let memories and good feelings wash over me. My old supervisor, the assisted living coordinator, promised me that they would try to get a good turnout for social so I could lead it, just like old times. Who woulda’ thunk that I would miss mega-sized crossword puzzles and word games so darn much? After playing the same game at least 21 times, I certainly didn’t think so, but I was oh-so-wrong. I walked in and immediately the eyes of a few residents lit up.It was so obvious, I didn’t even have to pretend to see it! I wasn’t forgotten, and to be honest, it felt great. I don’t absolutely need this sort of recognition, but I sure do love it. I gave a million hugs and felt really overwhelmed with emotion. A huge lump in my throat that didn’t leave until…oh wait, I think it may still be there lingering…
I led the group in solving a crossword puzzle. Then we played another word game with the word SEREDIPITOUSLY (forming smaller words from the bigger word). I had boundless energy and it felt amazing to be there. I was able to convince one of my old residents to attend social that typically never attends. She said she would come because I made it a special occasion. She hugged me and told me she loved me. And then she pretty much spaced out and half-napped for the majority of social, but hey, at least she was out of her room! And every time I looked her way, she blew me a kiss. Aww….
When social was over I went to visit my more independent resident, Marlene, who I used to have hydros with every Monday evening. She was lying on her bed when I knocked and entered. I announced and addressed myself, but it turned out to be totally unnecessary. She remembered me 100%. I sat next to her and held her hand and we talked about everything from which residents had passed away, to my moving preparations. We were gossiping just like we would do in the hyrdo room. It felt like I was visiting my grandma. I didn’t realize the depth and importance of these relationships really were until I came back. How lucky I was to meet these incredible people!
When I think about the passing of my special resident, Addie, I don’t feel devastated. Compared to when I lost my first resident, this feels like a completely different experience. While Addie may have deteriorated quickly, making it still somewhat shocking to everyone, it was her time to go. She had been fighting a blood clot for a long time, and apparently her memory and temperament had taken a sharp turn for the worse in the short month that I had been gone. I miss her. I wish I could have seen her again. I freeze for a moment when I think that I never get to look at her face again, or hear her voice. But letting go also feels natural. She lived a wonderful life. She told me herself how blessed she was in every way. I know that I aspire to live a life as full and satisfying as she did.
*Names changed for privacy