Happy National Assisted Living Week! This year’s theme is “Capture the Moment,” which NCAL hopes will inspire residents to seize the day and reflect on pivotal moments of the past. It also serves to remind caregivers of the important role they play in delivering high quality, person-centered care to the elderly.
I, for one, really love this theme and it comes at a particularly perfect time for me. Just last month was the first anniversary of my beloved grandmother’s passing. And since this is my first NALW at OnShift, I thought I would tap into the “reflection” component of the theme by sharing her story and how myself and my family did all that we could to help her live life to the fullest in her last years.
My grandmother, who I called “Mam,” was the matriarch of our family and did all she could to take care of us. She strived to live a life that her family would want to follow by example, and in that, she succeeded.
An authentic southern belle, Mildred Louise Goodman Brown was born in Arkansas in the 1920s and worked as a teletype operator for the Army Air Force Base before meeting my grandfather – a WWII military man whom she claimed for herself the moment she saw him. One day, as a bus pulled up on the military base, she told her coworker, “the tallest guy is mine, you pick second.” And that’s how she scooped up my grandfather, Russell "Doc" Brown.
The two married and moved to West Virginia to be near my grandfather’s family. She raised her 3 children and returned to work at a glass factory – all the while volunteering in the school system and at the local 4-H organization; and teaching the children's classes at church.
I was her first grandchild, so we had a very special relationship – one that was built on trust, acceptance and loads of good words to live by. I knew she would always be honest with me and lead me in the right direction.
As I navigated the trials and triumphs of my teen years and adulthood, I confided in her and my grandfather often. She always had great advice and silly sayings like “No matter how tough times are, you have to pull yourself up by your boot straps.” She stressed to me the importance of finding happiness and forgiving yourself for your mistakes – while learning from them, of course.
When it came time to transition into an assisted living community, she was naturally somewhat reluctant, as most are. She had helped me live my best life and now I knew it was time for me to continue to try and help her live hers. I made it a priority to never let her forget the wonderful person she still was.
The last Christmas she was living at the community, my husband and I went out and bought chocolate for her to personally gift to the staff members and residents. She had always loved giving to others, so we thought this would be a great way for her to do so.
I just remember how proud she was planning and organizing her bag of goodies for distribution. She was very much in her element and it was so touching to be able to remind her that she was still the lady we loved and admired so much.
It was a pleasure and honor to be there for my grandmother as she was for me. I know that there were special caregivers and other residents that significantly enhanced her final years. And for that, I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
Caregivers, never underestimate the profound impact you can have on the residents you serve. This week and in the future, I encourage you all to ask residents to share their stories from the past and their hopes for the future. They are still on their journey, so find out how they want to spend their last years. Do they have an outstanding bucket list item to cross off? If so, work with your community to make it happen as best you can. Did they accomplish something notable during their life? Ask them to tell you the story.
By doing so, I have no doubt that many meaningful moments will be created and shared throughout the industry. Just like my grandmother, everyone has a unique story, a life lesson or moments of joy to share. Taking the time to get to know what those are will inspire you as you continue to serve others in this rewarding line of work.