Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve loved visiting with the elderly. In the 2nd grade I created a school club for friends who wanted to visit the nursing home with me.
When I was old enough to get a job, it was only natural for me to be a CNA. I was 17, and just moved to a desolate area in the middle of Utah. My first day on the job I immediately fell in love with everyone. Most days after work I’d drive home to change out of my scrubs, and head back just to visit and spend extra time with those I felt needed extra attention.
These people had family, but most of them never visited. I remember one day a woman came in to see her mother, she was standing outside of her room crying. I approached her with a tissue and asked her if there was anything I could do. She replied, “What’s the point? She doesn’t even know who I am.” My heart sank. I wasn’t sure if I should interfere, but my 17 year old self took the risk, and said, “You can’t change her disease. YOU know she’s your mother, YOU have all the memories. Connect with the human being. Be a friend to the woman who is so grateful to have a visitor.”
In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have said anything. It was always difficult for me to understand why family members chose not to visit for that reason. They may not have all their memories, but they’re still a human being in need of love.
I had a blast every single day. They felt loved. We had so much fun, I’d invite them out to the main room and play the piano, or bring in an “oldies” CD and we’d dance and sing together. I’d sit and listen to their stories, laugh and cry together… connect.
After noticing some physical and emotional abuse from another CNA, I went to the owner. She threatened to fire me if I reported it to the state. I reported it anyway and quit. I still went back almost every day to visit until I moved.
I made a few close friends in that place, but one in particular made the biggest impact in my life. Bonnie didn’t have Alzheimer’s, but she was 100 years and alone. Her husband died 50 years prior, and her daughter 20 years. She begged me every day to move in with me and called me her baby, in return I called her “mama”.
One night about a month after I quit, I received a phone call from a Nurse who worked there to tell me that Bonnie’s organs were failing. I rushed over there immediately. The Nurse met me at the door and gave me the update as we walked to her room, “She’s not talking or eating, she doesn’t have much time.” I walked in and said, “Momma?” Bonnie’s mouth was wide open, her eyes shut, she replied clearing her throat, “There’s my baby.” Bonnie didn’t say a word for the rest of the night. I spent the evening by her side, holding her hand, singing and talking to her. Bonnie died the next day. That was 10 years ago next month.
My time working at that nursing home was only over a 7 month period, but it was one of the most amazing human experiences of my life. I’ll never forget the friendships I made. I know I am a better person because of my experiences there; it shaped me into the person I am today.
Dedicated to Bonnie, Bertha, Edna, Glenna, Molly, Ruth, and everyone else I had the honor of caring for. Thank you for sharing your life with me.