I have always enjoyed being around the elderly. Maybe because I love stories and the older they were the more ancient and mesmerizing the stories they told. I loved sitting there listening to them as they tell me about their experiences in a time that I can’t relate to. I let my mind wander and try to imagine how it was. My grandmother is 103 years old and I could spin an almost complete tale of her life from the personal bedtime stories she told us. Her mother, my great-grandmother, was 104 when she died. She also regaled us with her personal tales. So yes, I loved the elderly.
Being a people-person, I felt that I had a talent that I wasn’t using by sitting for 8 hours at a desk. The only way I could do this was to volunteer. I signed up with a homeless shelter and did a few stints prepping food. It was rewarding but just didn’t quench my thirst. I am not sure why and how but I ended up filling out a volunteer application form for a nursing home in my neighborhood.
The nursing home is ran by the Seventh Day Adventist Church and many of the residents are Adventists. This mean that they observe the sabbath, starting from Friday evening to Saturday evening. As a ex-Adventist myself, I volunteer to lead them in hymns and praises singing on Friday evenings.
I have to admit, I wasn’t very enthusiastic on my first shift. Yes, I love the old folks but I was used to them interacting with me, not sitting in wheelchairs unable to respond to anything. I was filled with compassion and sadness.
I soon adjusted and before long, used my charm on the unsuspecting elderlies, especially the ladies. I threatened punishment if they did not join in and sing and complimented them when they wore something, had a new hairdo or fancy jewelry. Or if they sang loudly. It wasn’t just about me going there to sing, it was now about something more rewarding. Not just for the residents but for me also.
Friday evenings are usually the best time for winding down after a hard long week. Going to sing at a Nursing Home doesn’t seem like a typical fun thing to do on such an evening. Sometimes I think about calling in sick so I could hang with the family and enjoy a Pizza Friday. Like last Friday for example. I must confess that when my coordinator calls at the end of the year to see if I was interested in committing to another year, the little voice in me says, take a year off, you deserve it. Plus the residents barely know you are there anyways, so they won’t miss you. I am stubborn so I never listen. I drag my butt the couple of blocks and sing for residents who for the most part look like they would rather be in their comfy beds than listen to me sing ‘How Great Thou Art’. But I keep on singing.
I have formed some friendships at that place and have listened to some pretty interesting stories. Usually a relative or two would join our hymn singing, one such fellow sat with his wife and added his rich bass voice to the singing. His wife passed last year but he still comes in the sometimes just to sing with us! There are times when I would miss one of my regulars for a few sessions. It would pain me to find out that they were gone but we move on. Mary is probably the oldest of the residents. She is 100 years old but you would never know by looking. She loves to share her stories with me and at the end of our singing, goes around collecting the hymnals, placing them on her walker which she calls her limo. She loves it when I bring the boys to sing with me, as everyone else does. Mary always have treats for them.
Old folks love kids! Well most of them do. That’s where my boys come in. At first it was hard convincing them to accompany me and when they went the first time, I had some explaining to do Being kids, they were at first repulsed and a little scared. They still managed to steal my show on their first visit and have been doing so ever since. When the boys are there, no one pays much attention to me, instead stare at the boys, especially when they sing their favorite number, “Jesus Loves Me This I Know”.
Last Friday, my centenarian buddy walked in a few minutes late. Of course she asked where the boys were and added that she was out with her daughter but asked to be brought home early. When her daughter asked her why, she told her that I was singing and she loved when I brought the boys. That made my day and I was glad I didn’t call in sick. I am sure she wasn’t the only one who would have noticed my absence.
The residents, those who are able, thank me profusely at the end of our hymn singings. They enjoy what I bring them but what they bring me is much more. My life has a little more meaning because of them. I know that those who look at me with blank stares, unable to show emotions, are actually hearing us and enjoying the songs and that’s a reason to keep doing what I do. Maybe unknowingly I am singing for one of my friends’ Mom, Dad, Grandma or Grandpa.