Spending time in your past reminds you of the present
When I was growing up my mother was CNA at Camden Health Care Center and I can remember spending many hours in the day rooms of wing three east and the skilled nursing facility doing homework or learning a new card game from one of the residents.
There was even a time where my sister also worked at CHCC and lots of times she would be going in as mom was getting out or vice-versa and they would make the “swap.”
I enjoyed being around the residents; some of them were very "with it," some would just sit staring out into space. I remember when I got off the elevator they were always in the same spot, and I would say hi to each of them – even though some of them didn’t realize it.
I remember one gentleman who, back then, looked to be 100 years old, with a wiry bristled gray and white beard with black and brown horned rimmed glasses. One of the ear pieces was held on with a safety pin and I could always tell what he had for lunch because of the crumbs left in his beard. He grumbled a lot at the nurses, but would always laugh and make a “wahoo” sound when I’d speak.
Another one I remember was a lady who would sit in her chair and rock back and forth counting “1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3…” One time a nurse walked by and whispered “four” in her ear and she erupted in a 5 second, blood curdling scream, then like nothing ever happened began to rock and count again.
But for every one resident dealing with declining mental status, there were the ones that just couldn't physically take care of themselves anymore. One lady used to sit with me in the day room and tell me stories about traveling the world. She taught me how to play Gin Rummy and we would play for hours while I waited for my mother’s shift to end.
Thanksgiving and Christmas I would volunteer to serve meals and bring residents down to the dinning room. I loved to watch the people come to life and enjoy each others' company, outside of the everyday of residential living. Knowing that I could help put a little joy in someone else’s life during the holidays always made me feel good as well.
One of the toughest parts, for both my mother and me, was that in that business, in almost every case nobody got out of there alive. I remember my mother coming home sometimes with a sad look and I knew that someone had passed away. You build a relationship with the people you come in contact with everyday. Nothing allows you to get to know a person any better than helping them with their personal struggles, ranging from going to the toilet to feeding themselves and bathing to communication, relationships are built and the loss can be hard to take.
I like to think that I am like my mother in the sense that she was a giver. She worked her entire adult life taking care of others and I found that to be one of the many things that I looked up to her for and admired.
Who would have thought that being forced to bring me to work because she was a single mother trying to do the best she could do, would somehow, someway, teach me some valuable lessons about service to others.
As I got older, my time spent at CHCC got less and less. I now had a driver's license and I would drop my mother off and pick her up after work. She would fill me in on the residents and let me know that they missed seeing me around. I still tried to find time to make it in for a game of rummy or just to hangout at the nurse’s station catching-up.
Although CHCC is no longer around, I still have the memories of hanging out with the countries greatest generation – and all of those things my mother and the residents taught me.