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Davis Journal

How much can a heart hold?

May 06, 2022 10:40AM ● By The Andersons

My days working at the senior care facility are coming to an end. It has taken such a physical toll, that I can't do it anymore. The days I work there, I can barely walk or stand afterward. My emotions though are so conflicted. My heart wants to stay, but my legs and feet scream, "no more!" Before my time there ends though, allow me to share a few thoughts: 

Today, as I was interacting with residents, my mind reflected on a recent obituary I'd read of a woman who passed due to Alzheimer’s. Accompanying her obituary was a photo of a beautiful, vibrant young woman. I don’t know when the picture was taken, but it was a reminder to me of the tremendous amount of life every resident in my facility experienced before they came to reside there. 

The people I interact with are now shadows of their former selves. 

I recently learned that one was a gifted artist - a painter - and I was shown a work she had done when she was younger. It is truly exquisite, and it hangs in her room. Now in her 90s, though her mind is relatively sharp and witty, she is unable to hold a crayon or to feed herself. She suffers from dementia, so moments of clarity are fleeting. 

Another resident, aged 85, has twice now shown me photos of herself as a young woman. The other day she brought me her ‘Class of 1954’ yearbook and showed me her senior year photo. There, on the page, staring back at me, was a brunette with shining eyes and the widest smile. I looked up at the woman, much older now, wrinkled and grey. She was beaming ear to ear. It was the same smile as all those years ago. I told her she was beautiful. She just smiled bigger and walked away.

As she did, I fought back tears. 

Another time, she brought me her passport from decades ago to show me that photo, too. 

Yesterday, she told me she never had a daughter, only three sons, but that she loved me and that I was her “favorite.” Then she hugged me.

Oh my heart. My heart. 

She says, “merci beaucoup” to me almost daily. I’ll never hear that again and not think of her.

Most of the residents, though, aren’t as mentally aware as she, so we don’t have those types of interactions. Instead, some will ask me questions that break my heart in other ways:

“Have you seen my husband?”

“Is my husband joining me for dinner today?”

“Oh no, I’ve forgotten my wallet! I never do that! I’m so embarrassed. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for my meal.” 

While we are trained on how to respond and communicate in situations where dementia is involved so that we don’t say anything that will upset the resident, what isn’t addressed is how these sweet people will walk straight into your heart and take-up permanent residence there.

Every life is precious. Every person has a story. 

The past three months have revitalized me, and awakened my spirit. I've received the most beautiful lessons in perspective. I will continue to be present in their lives, but as a volunteer where I will have the luxury of being able to just sit and chat - to be a friend.