For a little over a year, I was a Resident Assistant at a nursing home near my hometown. I started working there the summer before my senior year and left just days before I moved into college.
I had the privilege of working with more than sixty residents each day in the dining room, in the halls and in their rooms. Each person had a different story and each one either told that story right off the bat or let the story unfold over time.
Some were not able to tell me anything, but I learned over time and cherished my own unique way of knowing them. I encourage everyone to try to visit your local nursing home from time to time or, if your grandparents are still alive, talk to them.
You never know what you'll learn and experience.
1. Life isn't short if you don't live it that way.
Your life can be very long and adventurous if you choose so. One of my residents had a picture of him climbing Mount Everest with his buddies. He always talked about how he thought his life had been fulfilled by all his adventures and even owning his beloved cat at home. Surround yourself with people, and even animals, that you can enjoy every moment with.
2. Adaptation will come with the changes you make.
"You're resilient, dear, you'll learn to accept change as you grow." This quote always comes to mind when I come across a difficult situation. A lady who passed right before I started college told me this once.
She was British and she told me about how her family had sugar rations during World War II when she was fourteen. She was forced to have only milk in her tea and she adapted so well that even after the war was over, she never went back to sugar, even in her older age.
"Small things and big things will seem like milestones. But you'll learn," she told me.
3. Youth is a blessing.
It was always humbling to be able to walk freely when so many residents around me could not even sit up on their own in bed.
A lady from assisted living once joked when I walked up to her table at dinner time,"Well I used to look like that," she said. I giggled and took her order but she persisted and said,"Enjoy your youth. It won't be with you forever.
One day you may have trouble running around like you can now."
4. Enjoy the world around you.
Mobility and independence in this great big world is something to be cherished and appreciated. One thing that also humbled me was when one lady reminded me that she stares at the same ceiling tile all day long. That thought will stick with me forever. Travel often and enjoy the little things when you do.
5. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.
This one's a little silly but all the ladies told me how much moisturizer was a necessity in your everyday routine. "See how many wrinkles I have on my face and neck? They could have been much smaller!" they would say.
So, yes, it is very important apparently.
6. Your life is all yours.
"Stop worrying about what others think and live your damn life!" An analogy I came up with on my own, which they all agreed on, is that if you order tomatoes on a sandwich and someone tells you that they don't like tomatoes, would you take them off?
7. Stay off your high horse.
Be humble. The residents always reminded me that you don't know what others are going through and that nobody is more important than someone else.
"If you go around acting like a queen, those around you won't bow down to you. Don't expect much."
8. Be mature but learn when to lighten up.
The happiest residents were those that found humor in the little things.
One lady that I always had a good laugh with was in a wheelchair, couldn't move both of her legs and one of her arms. Her one good arm was so shaky that she had to have some assist her at meal times. She always cracked jokes and would talk to you about anything.
She told me once,"You have to find humor here or else you'll be so depressed that you'll lose your noodle." She stressed also to be mature when need be, otherwise, you'll look like a fool.
9. Don't take everything to heart.
Negative moments with some of the residents would hurt my feelings. I couldn't take everything personally though. They didn't like the circumstances they were in. You never know what someone is going through so if it looks like someone is having a bad day and they snap at you, walk away. It doesn't make them a bad person, just means they're having a rough time.
10. Never lose compassion.
"You're a sweet girl. Don't lose that. You'll be sorry if you do." It's always important to sympathize with others and try to put yourselves in their shoes. Be positive and treat others with kindness. "Kill them with kindness. Just because they're being nasty doesn't mean that you have to be."
I learned way more than these ten things but it would take me a century to tell you everything.
Working with this generation taught me a lot and I appreciate all the memories. I urge everyone to visit nursing homes and geriatric facilities. I guarantee that you will double over laughing with them and have a bigger heart when you leave. I know I sure did and I wouldn't have it any other way.