I woke up the first day of Vocare nervous and unsure of what to expect, but I was eager to meet new people and hopefully learn a thing or two. When I pulled into the parking lot off of Burleigh Road, I saw Liz in the car next to me, grateful to be able to go in with a friend, and I began my journey.
Walking in, I was immediately greeted with smiling faces and given a tour upon completing some paperwork. I attempted to map out the place in my head, but after just a few turns, I gave up. It was a maze. Luckily, my first activity with the residents was fitness, something I love. Forgetting I was in an elderly home, though, I laughed at myself when I realized fitness didn’t mean jumping jacks and high knees. Rather, it was basic seated exercises. I wasn’t sure how to control the wheelchairs or how to find each room, and I didn’t know the residents’ names, but the workers guided me, and I began to get the hang of it. Watching everyone participate in fitness, even if it simply meant bobbing their head and moving their hands, filled me with delight. It didn’t take much to put a smile on their faces.
I had imagined my time at Congregational Home would be spent going from room to room talking with residents and completing mundane tasks, but I enjoyed the hourly structure and found time throughout to get to know the residents and form deeper connections with them. Each day I was responsible for helping with three different activities, serving lunch, and moving the wheelchair bound residents from place to place. The first night, I journaled about how I felt lost in the building and feared that my uncertainty with names and directions would hinder my ability to make a positive impact. By the end of the week, though, my biggest challenge was containing my emotions while conversing with the residents whom I had formed such strong bonds with and whose well-being I cared so deeply for. Only when I found comfort in discomfort did I begin to fully embrace where I was and allow myself to learn and grow each day.
I never could’ve imagined how meaningful these two weeks would be. In just ten days, I had formed connections so strong that I cried during my goodbyes and on my drive home. Even the residents expressed their grief regarding my departure, but the lessons I learned through both their words and actions is something that I will take with me forever, and I hope the love I showed them will stay with them as well. Hearing about so many people’s lives, their interests, struggles, hopes, and dreams, I learned the importance of being present. I could’ve gone through the motions, kept to myself, done what I was told and called it a day, but instead I made an effort to learn about others, share my own stories, and engage with as many people as I could in a way that would make them feel seen and valued.
I won’t lie, although I experienced many beautiful moments, my time serving wasn’t always happiness and rainbows. It was extremely challenging witnessing and interacting with people who seemed lost in their own bodies, who couldn’t move their fingers without help, who didn’t understand where they were, who couldn’t eat on their own, and who had reached a point in their life where even keeping their eyes open for minutes at a time was difficult. However, it was these people who reminded me to count my blessings and continually strive to be a blessing in the lives of others. I was also reminded to avoid judging people. Some of these residents, many upwards of one hundred years old, were nearing the end of their lives. In need of great assistance, it would be easy to judge them or feel uncomfortable around them but realizing how successful many of the residents were and all they accomplished in their lives, my perspective changed. I was also surprised to see how capable some of them still were. Never did I think I would see a 101-year-old create drawings and paintings that should be in art museums, or a 90-year-old dance around like me. These people proved that age really is just a number.
Furthermore, I learned to appreciate the little things. What brought a smile to many are things which I think we all take for granted: seeing the sun shining down on the pavement, watching plants grow, receiving a cheap plastic necklace on St. Patrick's Day, listening to music, and most of all, interacting with others. Whenever I would go to someone and ask about their day or inquire if they wanted to go to an activity, their face lit up. At one point, I went to ask a resident if they wanted to join me in an activity. They responded with, “No thanks, but I really appreciate you thinking of me. Rather, would you mind taking a seat because I would love to talk to you.” Two new, young faces in the building were as exciting as a trip to Disney World for some of the residents. They all wanted to get to know me, and I even had the opportunity to share about my passions and perform for the residents. I received countless compliments regarding my uniform skirt, which I now have a newfound appreciation for, and the two questions I was asked the most were “what is DSHA?” and “how do you say your name?” I didn’t mind repeating my answer over and over, because the joy it brought my new friends was priceless. I wouldn’t trade the world for my time with them.
One resident in particular always wanted me to call her grandma, and by the end of the two weeks, I thought of everyone as my grandmas and grandpas. I was shown love like never before, and I witnessed more love than I ever imagined possible. From a loyal husband holding the hand of his dementia-stricken wife to praying over someone who was actively dying in front of my eyes, I felt God’s presence and His unconditional love in big and small ways throughout my time at Congregational Home. Life is a beautiful gift, and my service taught me to cherish each moment and spend time with others, especially the old and vulnerable. They will teach you more than you would’ve thought. It might not always be through words, but maybe in the way they look at you or how they express themselves. I left Congregational Home feeling as if they served me more than I served them. It broke my heart to answer the question, “So are you staying forever?” I would if I could, but knowing I brought them even just an ounce of joy leaves me fulfilled. I hope to return and visit my many grandparents again, and I encourage you all to visit yours too. You never know the ways you could impact them, and they could impact you. You don’t need to stay long, just a simple hello can make all the difference.