Community Columns

Forward Living: Never too late to learn from elders

San Simeon by the Sound Adult Day Care recreation supervisor Renee Genova assists residents during a game of badminton in 2011. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file)
San Simeon by the Sound Adult Day Care recreation supervisor Renee Genova assists residents during a game of badminton in 2011. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file)

Even though she was calling from overseas, I could hear the incredulous tone of her voice. She was a gal pal from back then and we’d recently reconnected through Facebook.

Catching up with our lives, I told her that I’d left my job as a medical practice administrator when I moved to Jamesport. However, I continued to write and started a medical billing and consulting service. 

Her disbelieving tone was not related to my writing or my business; she was referring to my job at a charming assisted living facility. I could use a fancy title like “activities director,” but basically my job there is to “entertain” the residents. And for a gal who is gabby and loves a good party, it’s a perfect fit.

My typical day starts with making rounds. I enter through the dining room and find one or two residents finishing breakfast. I continue to the common room, where some residents are lined up like sentries, leaning on their walkers. They look up expectantly when I enter. One gal usually pipes up, “What are we gonna do today?”

Out on the porch a lovely lady is doing puzzles; another is counting cars. One gal can always be found in her room. She knows I’ve arrived, but she waits for me to coax her downstairs. She comes willingly; all she wants is a little extra attention.

Once everyone is gathered, I lead them in exercise. We throw around a volleyball to warm up — and boy, can they throw! I’ve gotta duck when that yellow ball starts flying around. We progress to exercising to rock music. Although seated, they can move their arms, legs and tushies at a pretty good clip. Think: “The chair boogie!”

At lunch, the tempo slows. They enjoy listening to the old standards: “Stardust,” “Some Enchanted Evening” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” are favorites. Some may sing along, others close their eyes and drift back to another time.

After lunch I call bingo. This game is very serious business. My golden girls play to win and interruptions are a big no-no! You’d think they were playing high-stakes bingo instead of nickel bingo!

In the warmer months, activities are taken outdoors. A walk into town is a big treat, as is a ride to the beach. Recently, I took one of the residents to the doctor. En route, she was captivated by the colorful daffodils and blooming trees. I travel that road frequently and never fully appreciated the beauty until I saw it through her eyes.

I try to allot one-on-one time for each resident. I look through the same albums weekly. It’s been said that every picture tells a story — and they do.

I listen while they’re swept away to a time I cannot enter. I try to visualize them as they were: healthy and vibrant. They had husbands, wives, lovers, loves, heartbreak and joy. They were us! These dear residents may be shells of their former selves, but what lives within each of them is the true essence of who they really are.

The residents who live at this facility come from all walks of life. For most, this will be their final home. Uprooted from all they know and love, some may never fully comprehend; they live within the realms of their mind. Others have embraced their new lives with a tentative acceptance. From my vantage point, those who have retained most of their cognitive skills are most affected.

Through these residents I have gained a deeper perspective and wisdom about life and loss. I have learned that the human spirit can triumph over the most trying circumstances. Life gives us many opportunities for blessings. My “You’re doing what?” job has enriched my life.

Funny; I came to bring the gifts of comfort and companionship. What a surprise to find these gifts returned to me a hundredfold.

IannelliMs. Iannelli is a resident of Jamesport.