My twinkling star

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Teri Weiman, SSD-AD
Teri Weiman, SSD-AD
EDITOR'S NOTE: “You Can't Make Up This Stuff” is a new McKnights.com blog written by Teri Weiman. A long-time social services designee and activity directory she currently oversees 80+ volunteers, supervises 11 activity aides and has two amazing assistants at a central California skilled nursing facility. She has learned that all long-term care residents have valuable attributes and can teach a lot about life ... which she will share in her blog. An early riser and eternal optimist, she lives by the saying carpe diem. Her blog is updated at www.mcknights.com.

As the social services and activity director in a 92-bed skilled nursing facility, I am fortunate to share in a precious season of residents' lives. For most of them, this is the final “home” that they will have this side of heaven. It is our motto that they don't come here to die but to live.

As social service / activity staff, we have the opportunity to catch a unique glimpse of the individual because we assess their likes, preferences and learn about their backgrounds. We are entrusted with them. The residents share their histories and life lessons with us — if we are quiet enough to listen and observe.

My desire is to convey the nuggets of wisdom, humor and truth that these people have shared with my co-workers and me. There are days that I cannot keep a single train of thought because of the diverse responsibilities of my job. There are unrealistic demands from residents and their families, as well as lost teeth and clothing, broken hearing aids and hearts, settling conflicts, staff meetings, deadlines, multiple projects at once — and the ever-present government documentation and mandates.

You've been there, too. You've also shared in the immeasurable joys of my job.

Our experiences are so amazing. Truly, you can't make up this stuff.

An instant friend
As a social services-activity director, I have the amazing honor of being with residents during their final moments of life. One such moment in my memory bank will be my time with Lillian.

I fell instantly in love with this 89-year-old resident. She was vibrant, pretty, witty and embracing. She and I were instant friends. I was certain she was going to be with us for a brief visit and return to independent living.

She had eloped at the age of 18 to marry a young Hispanic man. In her hometown, such a mixed marriage was frowned upon. Locals walked across the street to snub her and subsequently ignored her three children from that union.

“I didn't know that I wasn't suppose to fall in love with a Mexican,” she said with her sweet Southern voice.

“There was nothing wrong with falling in love with a Mexican,” I chimed in. “Those were small- town people with closed- minded thinking. Children of mixed marriages are beautiful. In fact, I am one myself.”

She and I giggled and she turned the conversation once again to the heartfelt topic of loving people. “I think we're called to love people, no matter what their nationality or their background, don't you?” Lillian shared as she patted my hand.

Birthday presents
Lillian glowingly anticipated her 90th birthday party. I was privileged to attend this gala event. The people in the room were eclectic: hippie hair, leather motorcycle chaps, church clothes and business attire. There were people she had known for over 50 years and some new friends (like me) who managed to join her life late in progress. I relished being a member of this specially selected group of people. The love was palpable, warm and embracing.

“Are you having fun, Honey?” she asked me when I got out of my chair to talk with her. “Do you like my family?”
“Yes and YES,” I said. She hugged me from her wheelchair and I smelled the corsage on her chest. She made me feel like I was her favorite person in the room.

Twelve days after the 90th birthday celebration, I sat next to her bed in her quiet room. I leaned over her close enough to hear her faint voice. My mind could not reconcile how my vibrant friend had gone from birthday party honoree to a frail sickly patient within a very brief time.

“I want to go home,” she whispered to me.

“I will miss you. Thank you for everything you have shared with me,” I said.

“I will be watching you. Whenever you look up at the sky at night and see a twinkling star, that will be me looking after you,” she said with the twinkle in her own eyes and her finger drawing an imaginary star in the air.

“I will remember that,” I said softly as I patted her hand, tears rolled down my face. “Remember, I need a lot of looking after.”

“Yes, you do,” she teased, with a peaceful smile on her face, her last words to me.

Saturday morning, I called the nursing home to see how she had fared through the night. The shift nurse informed me that she had passed on 15 minutes after I hugged her goodbye.

When I look up at the sky I'll wink up at you, Lillian. Thank you for keeping an eye out for me!

Check out
www.mcknights.com regularly to see more of Teri Weiman's posts.