They Called Me Sunshine

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”

-Maya Angelou

My prayer was: Lord, I don’t know what my future holds but show me where I’m needed and I’ll go.

It was an eight week assignment at the assisted living/memory care facility. I was stepping in for someone who was out for surgery. I wasn’t guaranteed a permanent spot there at the end but decided I’d take the chance and the opportunity to do something vs. nothing at the time. The pay was half the amount I was used to but I recalled my prayer and decided to be obedient to what was being presented to me.

At first it was pretty daunting. I had never had a role like this before. With little guidance it was a sink or swim situation. So at first, shyly, I began to swim. I figured I would just be myself and do it the way my heart lead me. After all, how hard can an Activities Assistant role be? I thought back to all the things in my past that helped prepare me for this. I’ve led bible studies at my church and home , taught women at the community center how to arrange flowers, gone to yoga classes, headed up charity parties in the travel industry, learned to paint, etc. Surely I can enrich the lives of seniors for eight weeks. We had chair exercises, great discussion groups and game times with lots of laughs. People from the outside would come in and perform for them as well. I felt like for the most part, they were happy and well taken care of.

However. there were many things that bothered me. Even though the facility was lovely, I wondered if it was normal to smell certain things in that environment. There were lots of smells, lack of circulating air, a basic dimness. I also wondered why there weren’t more opportunities for them to have truly fresh fruits and vegetables at their meal times. Perhaps there were medical reasons why they were served mushy greens. It broke my heart when they would ask me, “do you think I’ll ever get out of here?” Sometimes they would sit in their wheelchair and look out the window by the front door, knowing they could no longer come and go as they please. I could see the turmoil in family member’s eyes when they would come to visit their loved ones. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for them as well. Having a parent that once cared for them is now incapable of caring for themselves.

I noticed how time seemed to be in slow motion there. The residents were never in a hurry. How could they be? They were always in the moment. That world is all they know now. It made me slow down as well. All they want is for someone to talk to and to know who they are. They are not empty shells like we see them. They all have a life that they lived and experiences that led them to this point. I also observed the workers and the way they lovingly cared and spoke to the residents. It gave me hope in humanity again in this culture where everyone seems to hate one another lately.

Another funny thing happened a long the way. While I was trying to enrich their lives, they unknowingly began to enrich my life. I learned all of their names which is a big deal for me. (My children often remind me how bad I am about remembering people’s names.) I also began to learn their stories and personalities.

I am amazed at how their faces would light up when they would mentioned a lost loved one and I would sit down and say “tell me about her.” I began to look past the things that I saw with my eyes and smelled with my nose. I began to see with my heart instead and it was a humbling experience. I even made one of the “tough” residents come to the activities and stay a lot longer than he normally would have. So when he smiled and actually started talking to the others, something inside of me beamed. When he would roll away in his wheelchair, the other’s would say: “how in the world did you get him to come?!” Two of the residents pulled me aside before I left and told me what a difference I made while I was there and that they’d never forget me. My eyes filled and I thought to myself, I will never forget you either.

I had four or five of the residents tell me I was like sunshine. Even one of my co- workers called me that. It made my heart feel happy. I hope I really did spread a little sunshine in my short time there and made someone feel loved, and important, because they really are.

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