I enjoy weekly visits to a elder care center.
Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d type. The truth is, until September of this year, I had never, at least willingly, visited a nursing home. Every time I’d been to some sort of elder care home either on a Bible camp trip or to give a special ballet performance, I honestly hated every minute of it. The smell reminded me of a hospital, I didn’t know any of the elders I was being forced to interact with, and I’d always leave with an overwhelming sense of relief, knowing that I didn’t have to feel uncomfortable anymore. So naturally, when I found out that one of the classes I signed up for this semester required weekly visits to a local elder care center, I was more than a little anxious. I expected to feel awkward and uncomfortable being in that environment again. What actually happened, was incredible.
In our class, we were assigned partners that we would sit and talk with every week. The woman I opted to work with is named Esther. She is old, hard to understand and absolutely wonderful.
I think one of the most defining characteristics about elders that we immediately jump to is how easily they forget; “I’m sorry, what’s your name again?”, “What year is it?”, and “Have we met before?” are all common phrases that we come to associate with the elderly. After my first visit with Esther, I wasn’t expecting her to remember my face, let alone my name. I was fully preparing to have to reintroduce myself to her by the time our second visit rolled around. To my surprise, Esther recognized me immediately. As soon as I walked into the room, almost instantaneously her face broke into this huge smile and she waved for me to come sit with her. Since then, we’ve shared many lovely conversations.
Esther loves dogs- she always asks me to draw them for her. Throughout her life, she has raised four stray puppies on her own and can recall each of their names with ease. This also surprised me, because given that she’s 87 years old and lives in an assisted living center, I admit that I wasn’t expecting her to remember very much of her past, let alone the names of her dogs. She continuously surprises me with her love for life- creating nature scenes with me and encouraging me to sit close to her. She craves human contact and closeness- frequently touching my wrist with a gentle hand and never forgetting to say goodbye with a warm hug and kiss on the cheek. Esther tells me that she’s happy that she’s made a new friend, and I tell her that I’m glad that I have too, even if it was unexpected.
What I’ve come to realize is that it’s not necessarily specific memories of names or people that we remember as the years go by (although her recall is actually quite good). Instead, it is the emotional connections we make and the hearts that we touch.