When I was 23, I started working at an assisted living facility for the elderly. Some of the residents had dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. At first, I was very intimidated by this job. I doubted myself often and wondered if I would be able to care for these people properly. I did not want to make a mistake. It turns out; these women became a big part of my life and taught me so much about how to be a mother.
I started working at The Gardens after breaking up with my fiancé. This facility is where my heart mended and became whole again; this facility is where I gave so much love and always got it back in return; this facility is where I learned how to enjoy each moment because I was never guaranteed another.
One Lady, P, was a dancer in her time. She would kiss me on the cheek and ask to dance often. She laughed; she laughed so hard. She taught me how to have joy, even when life wasn’t what you had imagined. Because of her, my home is filled with laughter and dancing.
Another woman, G, taught me patience and gentleness. She was easily overwhelmed. She couldn’t hear very well, and it was painful for her to walk. I loved and adored this woman. We developed a trust and a bond that made me excited to see her each day. I learned the most from her. I had to meet her where she was and learn how to love her differently than the others. I learned what she needed from me and never pushed her to be faster or louder. Instead, I slowed down for her, and I enjoyed the time. When G died, I rejoiced because I knew that she was ready, but I mourned because I just wasn’t prepared to let her go. Because of her, I know the importance of patience and a gentle spirit. I’m sure my children appreciate the lessons she taught me!
B was my watcher and protector. He was one of the few men in my hall and cared so much for my friend and me, who saw him each day. He taught me the importance of memories and a good story. I would effortlessly lose myself in his stories and forget that I was there to work. This place became a home for me, and these people were my family. Because of him, I make lots of memories with my children. I don’t try to document them all by taking a picture. Instead, I fully live in the moment so I can tell the story later.
C taught me how to love someone, even when they’ve changed. Her dementia often had her traveling through different times in her life. I didn’t see it as my job to remind her of reality. Instead, I joined her in her time. One morning she was getting ready for her college class, and she asked why the freshman kept coming to her room. (I was the freshman.)
Because of her, I know how to love my children through there different stages. I know how to meet them where they are and guide them through it. I also apply this lesson to my marriage. We will both evolve and change, and that isn’t bad.
M taught me the importance of trust and time spent. When I would walk into her room, she was often surprised and a little afraid. She would not always remember me. Instead of going about my work, I would sit down, introduce myself, and watch some “Jeopardy” with her. I would gain her trust by spending time with her. Because of her, I will always remember how to properly honor and steward my relationships with my husband and children.
The life lessons that I learned there and the memories that I made could go on and on. I will be forever grateful for the time that I spent with such amazing people. Even living with such a heartless disease that stole so much from these peoples lives, they still made such an impact on mine, a young girl who at the time had a broken heart. I now have a wonderful husband and two beautiful children.
They helped me learn to parent before I was one, their prints will forever be marked on my life, even after they have gone.