Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Decade Old

It's going on a decade this year that I've worked in the Senior Living Industry, at various communities throughout the Bay Area and North Bay, in a number of different positions. And I'm proud to say, not a day goes by that I don't love what I do and who I work with.

My journey began back in high school in my hometown. My older cousin worked at a local assisted living communtiy down the street from my parent's house, and she knew I needed a job and recommended I interview for the concierge position. And I did. I was confident, too, that I would get it.  I knew I loved and appreciated my grandmother, actually enjoyed spending time with her, was pretty organized for my young age, friendly, not shy, and knew how to answer phones the right way; always with a smile.
And so I got the job.

 So it began. My beautiful encounters with grandma's and grandpa's of all kinds, sharing their life-stories, words of wisdom, and humor, cynicism, and genuine kindness in all ways shapes and forms. I stayed late after work to hear their war stories, listened to them when they bragged about their children and grandchildren, and held their hand and cried with them when they told me about their wife or husband who passed, too early in life. 
They became my best friends.
After a year of working there, I was accepted to college and had to leave. It wasn't easy, but at least I could visit when I was home. And I did.

I missed the residents so much, I decided to find a local community up by school to continue my passion for working with the elderly. I needed it. I needed them.
I worked at two different communities during college. Built wonderful relationships with the staff and of course the residents. I'll never forget one woman inparticular Daisy Gibbons. A 94 year old woman, when I was there, who loved to brag about having all her own teeth at her age. No crowns, dentures, nothing! So cute, and such a sweet woman.

After school, my previous boss helped refer me to a full time marketing position at a well-known, luxurious San Francisco community. I "owned" that community. I knew the entire staff by first and last name, knew about their families, hobbies, hopes and dreams. We were quite the family. I was well-respected. Any problem they needed, I made sure it was dealt with and fixed. I fought for them. I was their voice if there's wasn't heard.

I loved this community. Everyday at tea time, around 2pm, I would take a break from "work" and sit and nibble on a cookie and share in conversation with the regular tea time group. All the residents were enjoyable to speak to, but Mary O'Connor happened to be my favorite. Something about her was so special to me. She listened to me and I listened back. She was Italian, strong-willed, and kind. She always spoke of her husband.  Brought down pictures of him and cried and laughed, always telling me, though, that he passed too early, too soon and that she missed him everyday, and couldn't wait to be with him again. Very touching to here. Even death couldn't break the love she still had for him...

Mrs. O'Connor was the one resident I turned to during the 2 month break my fiance, (boyfriend at the time) took from our relationship. I didn't do breaks at age 23, so I had to convince myself that it was over. Everyday. But I didn't want it to be over and I knew in my heart it wasn't.  It was what I had to do at the time, to survive. I remember the endless conversations I had with Mrs. O'Connor, crying to her about my heartbreak. She always told me, "he'll be back kid" And he did. He came back, and put a ring on it. And has vowed to never leave me again.
I still talk with staff at that community and visited recently to find out that she passed only months ago from cancer. She's no longer in any pain and resting peaceful with her husband, fulfilling the wish she had wanted for so many years.

Thank you Mrs. O'Connor for all the conversations we shared.

Here I am now, at my 7th senior living community in Oakland. The staff and residents here at just as lovely, welcoming and kind as all the others. Maybe it's just the type of people that choose to work in this industry. We form a family at work, and establish close relationships with the residents. We understand the end of life, the fragile transition one has to make to move-in to a communtiy, and the hardships of losing friends and family members.  It's hard to leave work sometimes, not knowing who's not going to be there the next day. It is part of working with seniors though.

Not a day goes by that I don't count my blessings. I love what I do. And working with such intelligent, wise individuals who have lived life beyond and above anything I know at age 27 helps keep me grounded. They keep me real and humble.
So next time you encounter a senior citizen, take a moment to imagine what they've seen and been through in their life time. It's probably an amazing story, I can bet on it. And be patient with them.

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely, heartfelt post! I used to volunteer with seniors who had Alzheimers. They kept forgetting me but I kept going back:-)