On Being Present
Grateful for senior homes and weed.
My entire photo roll is of old people.
I am moving to a new city soon and I have to say goodbye to perhaps the most meaningful position I’ve ever held — a bestie of oldies.
Months later, I can say that I would definitely recommend this type of work to other people, especially those interested in working with folks impaired by physical and mental disabilities — but it is certainly not for everyone. If you don’t like being the life of the party, this is probably not for you.
In January, I basically started living at the facility — I started picking up more shifts as a recreation coordinator and making more money. The pay was low and the administration basically endorsed nepotism. The big boss was friendly but distant and oftentimes crude. The work was exhausting at times but I knew that whatever I was upset about was nothing compared to what the aides or dining staff or my director had to go through.
Building trust is something that I was able to achieve with some of the residents but not others and that was true for the most obvious reasons: some have dementia, some do not. The women are most likely to want to communicate with the staff and attend activities, while the men are likely to not — but there are exceptions.
Interdepartmental camaraderie is rare though. A colleague of mine who had successfully raised through the ranks over the last few years can effortlessly tell you the history of this senior home. She credits this work for getting her interested in a career in business management…which is good because she is really good at managing the rest of us.
Before this gig I was working a remote job for a home health nonprofit and after months of that I could not handle it anymore. I was desperate at that point for in-person work. What’s crazy is that once I started working here, I started to develop even more healthy habits and that’s because I was so eager for these elderly to like me. If they liked what they saw, they would come to my events. Impressing the oldies motivated me to actually care about my appearance — somewhat.
The brainiacs and bookworms truly astounded me with their knowledge which made trivia games very fun. Also, have you heard of the cliché that old people love Bingo? Yup, it’s real. They really love the hell out of Bingo and each week it is the most highly attended event. (“I love to gamble” — one elder keeps telling me — but don’t be surprised if she threatens to file a lawsuit and shut down this facility a minute later.)
It’s normal though to see a stretcher and EMTs come by once every few weeks. It’s scary leaving one day and thinking that when you return the next a person whose company you deeply enjoy(ed) could expire. It has happened. It feels horrible.
This work has also opened my eyes to a religion that I had very little knowledge about previously. The facility markets itself as a home for Jewish elders — not everyone is Jewish but we recreation coordinators have to plan and execute social events according to the religious doctrine of most of the residents. I remember telling one resident that I was raised Hindu. She seemed concerned — “But you’re also Jewish right?” She is the truly the sweetest. “Yes, I am,” I told her. “I like to believe in a little bit of everything.” I am now good friends with one of the Rabbis. He has been very supportive of my own dreams, encouraging me to write and teach and one day share my work with him. (Hi Rabbi, if you are reading this. I am doing my best.)
To get to the latter half of the above one-liner — well, it’s pretty self-explanatory.
Reading, writing, simply focusing on the present moment, falling asleep — it’s helped me with all of these things. However, I am slowly moving towards a lifestyle in which I don’t use it…because I think I could do better without it. (This all sounds crazy if you knew me.)
Taking it one day at a time.