Embrace Living with Rebecca Priest: Room to Grow

Rebecca Priest

Rebecca Priest

My children stayed over at my Mom’s Saturday night, and when I arrived to pick them up on Sunday, my Mom reminded me I was supposed to have picked up my sister.

Beth thrives on schedules, and when I called her to apologize she was already standing in her driveway, waiting for me in Webster. I was in Greece with my mom and the kids. I screwed up.

To make it right I wrapped up quickly with my mom and dragged the girls over to Beth’s house with some snacks and a soda. She was gracious as always, and after a quick hello she and the girls went off to sing frozen on the karaoke machine. It seemed all was right again in her world.

I sat at her kitchen table with one of her housemates, David, and as we sipped tea, he and I talked about Beth. He said many things, all truthful, but the thing that struck me the most was this; “She’s come a long way since we moved in, hasn’t she, Bec?”

My heart skipped and my eyes welled up with tears. I’m talking with my sister’s housemate, who has different cognitive abilities than you and I, and he is talking about her growth as a roommate, as a friend, as a community member.

I am moved, and struck by his growth. How incredible is this man who sits in front of me, who started living with my sister when she only knew what it was like to live with me, her somewhat accommodating sister. In the same way, David only knew how to live with his parents, who have their own way. And here, thirteen years later…they have grown to understand and respect and live with each other as men and women, much thanks to the staff who support their individual needs with great respect and ingenuity.

What a beautiful gift.

Then I thought about the elders who move into our home.The elders who only know what it means to live in their home with somewhat accommodating supports or maybe they only recall living alone. I thought about how much credit we give them for “coming a long way” like David did my sister. And then, in as much esteem as I hold the evidence of maturity in Beth’s friend and roommate David, I think about how far we’ve come as those growing alongside elders.

Community living is not the same as living at home. There are routines and schedules which can impale the success of elders, if we allow them to. Our role, you see, is to learn how people work, live and think and adjust ourselves and our schedules to them. This is no easy task yet it is exactly what Beth and David did, and continue to do. They are learning how to live together in a community and they are learning how to grow together. They have done it in 13 years, but you and I often have far less time to adjust.

The good news is that we have the ability to do it more quickly than Beth and David, not by expecting the elders who are moving in to “come along” with us, but by committing to our own efforts to “come along” and adjust to them in order to make the days Elders have with us as meaningful and familiar as in their own home.

We must step back from our concept of what life in a nursing home looks like, and only respond to what the elders who move in are seeking.

Maybe someday a couple of elders will sit in the dining room and talk with a friend about how incredibly the staff have “come along” since they moved in.

Rebecca Priest,
Administrator of Skilled Nursing

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