Saturday, May 24, 2008
Visiting a Nursing Home
My students and I participated in a Service Project to a nursing home yesterday. We really were not prepared. As we arrived we could smell that peculiar smell of some care facilities(edited). After being there a while we couldn't smell anything out of order. We walked on in and went to a community area where the residents played games and chatted. Once we were briefed we were asked to go down two corridors and greet those residents that were bedridden and chat with them awhile. That was a challenge.
Sometimes they were bathing, others were sleeping, and some resisted visitors. In fact, two males students who I know were totally respectful were asked to leave a room. Yet there were many who were very happy to see visitors. They ranged from many different levels of needs, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds, just like us. It makes me smile to think how they ministered to us.
After we walked the halls and said hello, and got some students occupied, I thought maybe I can sit down a minute because I had done a lot of walking earlier at school in heels and my feet were aching. Then I spotted some of my students talking to an elderly lady. I asked her if she would like to go out to the lovely butterfly garden next to the commons area. There we found a table where we all could sit and chat.
One of the purposes of the trip was to interview the residents about their life stories and memories. As we talked to Miss M. we realized that her memory was not quite clear and if we asked her if she had ever held a job, or did she have brothers and sisters, or anything beyond, the fact that she had been born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, she would pause, search her mind and then sing, recite, or simply say " away in a manger no crib for a bed my little Lord Jesus, lay down his sweet head..."
It dawned on me that she liked Christmas songs, so I asked the kids if they would like to sing one. They could only think of ones in Spanish since they were mostly Spanish speaking ESOL students and also because it was such an emotional moment for all of them. So I started to sing the first one that came to my mind, which was Jingle Bells (in the middle of May in 80 degree weather!) and they all sang it, and there was a burst of smiles, laughter, and clapping. Then someone, I think Marietta, who had joined us in her wheelchair asked me to sing another song. So I sang a song, my little granddaughter, Zee, had sung at school: My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty there's nothing my God can not do. They loved it and laughed and smiled. It was a beautiful moment. We continued talking and sharing, and then it was time to go visit other residents, and some of us left, though some of the girls stayed on with Molly and Marietta.
When we went down the hall we saw a Mr. G. W. He seemed a little gruff at first, but he turned out to be a very educated distinguished fellow. He had been a lawyer, Minister of Interior in El Salvador, and a diplomat. His last name and demeanor was Irish, since his grandfather had been an Engineer who migrated to El Salvador when they developed the railroads there. One of my students overheard us talking when he said El Salvador, and she said she was from El Salvador, too. She is half Salvadoran and also very espanola on her dad's side, so I was surprised. She came in the nick of time and they had a chance to talk about all things Salvadoran including favorite foods, his high school, and university. What a curious conversation.
It was wonderful to see all the goodness and kindness they showed the elderly. Later I took them aside and told them how proud I was of them! They were so transparent in feeling and showing compassion and affection. That is something very hard to get from a high school student in a classroom setting. As a result of seeing and making friends some of the kids are signing up to be volunteers because they fell in love with the people there.
Finally when it was time to go, we did get to say goodbye to Molly. She gave all of the kids a kiss. When I went to say goodbye, she held my hand, and kissed it. She said we need more of this and this is all we need. Then I bent down to give her a kiss and she kissed my cheek. It was all very touching and will not soon be forgotten..