It was another cold weekend so Saturday we visited the Applewood Living Center, a senior care nursing facility in Longmont. We met with approximately 30 residents and staff.
We are not going to pull any punches during this week's write-up. Sometimes, there are circumstances in our communities that are less than perfect; that are not as humane or as compassionate as they could be; where the sense of belonging is mostly absent. Most of those we met in the last two weeks in our local nursing homes seemed lonely and isolated. We wondered to what extent they are visited by families, friends or others. The staffs at these facilities are doing all they can to take care of all those in their care and in fact the staff we met were quite responsive and caring with the residents. The staff hinted around that visits by loved ones are not frequent.
Are our senior facilities somewhat reflective of an existing indifference, self-interest or our isolated way of living? Did we build these institutions and develop this particular helping profession to service our older and more vulnerable seniors and others at the exclusion of the remainder of our communities? Are they outcasts from their families? It appeared to us that these folks are more less forgotten by the rest of our community. That may be difficult to hear but we would invite each of you to visit a local nursing home and determine for yourself what these precious people experience.
The need to create a sense of belonging in our local senior facilities perhaps grows out the isolated nature of our lives, our institutions, and our communities. But what we experienced in these last two weeks gives us great hope that our Belonging Revolution can be a great contributor to building a social fabric that can bring love to the residents of these facilities and great satisfaction to those who choose to visit and spend time with these wonderful people and those who provide their care.
Here are a few stories from our visit this last weekend to Applewood.
We first saw Sally in her wheel chair facing the wall in a darker hall. She was clutching a door knob and was shaking. Sally seemed to be in a state of considerable fear and was clearly disoriented. It did not take us long to see Sally might be struggling with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Mike knelt down and gently held Sally's hand and began to speak with her very softly and with great care and sensitivity. At first, Sally seemed frightened by our presence but it did not take long for Mike to ease her fears. Mike's gentleness and his compassion seem to flow from him to Sally and within moments, Sally began to become more present. She eventually told us her name and when Mike asked her for a beautiful smile, she lit up and showed us what her family and friends have probably seen for years. Sally lifted her head straight and revealed a face with eyes that sparkled and a smile that reflected years of living a life of dignity and wholeness and happiness. For an exhilarating moment in time we connected with the mind and spirit of Sally - it was so special and it was so emotional. Mike's hand kept holding Sally's hand - and neither wanted to let go for fear of losing that moment of clarity. Sally whispered to us that "this is so good." Eventually, we helped Sally move to an area of the facility that had more light, more human interaction and next to a small bird sanctuary where she seemed to have a little more brightness.
We encountered a man named Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a resident within Applewood because of significant accident. He was quite talkative and felt some anxiety about leaving Applewood. He was not sure how he could afford housing. He did say he has "fallen in love with Longmont" because of what Mike and I represent - "two ethnicities joining together to try to do some good in our community."
Elzi was a real treat. She told us of her five daughters and three sons and had pictures of all of her children and grandchildren on her wall. She reminisced extensively about her life and her children. She was not ambulatory and began to tear up when we said we were going to visit others.
We met the Lusk family. There was Mildred, Jerry, Mary, Betty and Chris. We spent some time with them chatting about Chattanooga, Tennessee (the birthplace of Mildred) and Jerry's former business in town (Camera Broker). They were quite complimentary of Longmont Police and how the police officers helped their 14 year old son who was prone to waving a toy, but real appearing, gun around indiscriminately. Our visit with them was fun. We exchanged some common experiences, had some laughs and really connected. We felt Mildred was in good hands between her visiting family and the staff of Applewood.
We spent a lot of time visiting with many other residents of Applewood. We took photos of most our encounters. One man became quite fearful and perhaps indignant at us being in his room. He told us he did not want to answer any questions and had a real hard time believing Mike was who he said he was. We left him with as much grace as we could and let him know we cared for him and certainly understood his sense of caution. Let it be noted that Rick was the only person we've met in two visits and about 60 plus people who did not want to visit. Maybe we will try again with Rick in the near future.
We have so many feelings and thoughts from our visits in these nursing homes. In a way, it is hard to come into these homes and ironically it is hard to leave. In many cases, people do not want us to leave them - that is difficult for us. We believe restorative community is created when we allow ourselves to be present for those we do not know or who need care or who want to be appreciated and acknowledged for their goodness. We also believe restorative community happens when we believe and act on the belief that we each have a healing and compassionate nature that can bring vitality and aliveness to others. And that is what we are finding in our visits to our nursing homes. We feel so privileged and honored to hear stories from people who have lived lives of dignity and wholeness. There is no pretense, there is no lack of integrity or authenticity. The people we meet starve for connection and relatedness and greet us with a wonderment that we are even there.
We found more people to love in our lives! We found amazingly fertile ground for our Belonging Revolution.
Thank you, Dan Benavidez