One place a Minister goes that most people don’t go is a senior’s care facility. Family members visit their mother or father, their grandmother or grandfather, but it is often the Minister who finds her/himself in the company of non-relatives at a facility where seniors live with some degree of assisted living. Given our access to this demographic we hear some honest talk from people who often feel very isolated. Some have made the adjustment well, they know why they need assistance and have accepted that they cannot live alone any longer. Some rage against the reality that their bodies and/or minds are not what they used to be and there is little acceptance or peace to be found. And most are somewhere in between.
Yesterday I was visiting someone who is the mother of an old friend. I have since lost touch with this friend but I remember his mother fondly. She is the one who recommended the blacksmith who designed my wife’s wedding ring. This woman and I have a mutual friend and this friend asked me if I would make a visit to the senior’s home. So I took my daughter with me assuming that her artistic nature would be interested in all the art work I knew we would witness in the room. I was not disappointed, the entire room was filled with beautiful and interesting art, all created by the occupant. Lucy was most impressed.
I saw photos of her two adult children, three grandchildren, all squeezed in among the colourful art work. I heard of visits from her family and friends. I saw caring staff drop in and treat this woman as family. I received a tour of the floor, complete with a visit to the art room where Lucy and she did a puzzle. It was obvious this was home to this woman and that she had made her peace with the transition from her former private residence.
But just before Lucy and I left this woman wanted to show us a special place. There was an outdoor garden, a courtyard, in the middle of the facility. Every imaginable plant life was there, complete with growing vegetables. It was beautiful and the sun shone, the sky was deep blue and everything looked so healthy and alive. “There” she pointed at one spot in the garden. “That’s where my daughter put up a beach umbrella, took out a picnic basket with my favorite foods and uncorked a bottle of wine. We just sat there and enjoyed the afternoon, it was a delight!” And in that moment this woman’s eyes came alive, her spirit fully extended, she reveled in what had been only a few weeks ago.
Moments and memories like that are few and far between, even for those of us who have more control over our lives, more exposure to a variety of social contacts. And I wonder if family and friends of loved ones who live in caring facilities like that one know what impact these surprises have. The people on the receiving end of these gestures and experiences never forget them and they live off the fumes of the day for weeks and months to come. Believe me, I hear it. People say that residents in places like this live in the past, but the exception are episodes like the one I described above. Listening to the other share these stories it is like it happened yesterday.
I don’t know if families know what I have shared in this blog. But it is true and all you need to do to prove it is to plan and execute one of these surprises yourself for someone you love. Just make sure you remember to bring the corkscrew.