We all have stories

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Mary Gustafson, McKnight's Staff Writer
Mary Gustafson, McKnight's Staff Writer

I recently stumbled on one of the most captivating obituaries I've ever read. It chronicled the life of a woman named Lana Peters, who died in a Wisconsin nursing home. The reason her death made The New York Times shortly after Thanksgiving? She was the last surviving child of Josef Stalin.

Peters changed her last name from Stalina to her mother's last name, Alliluyeva, after her father died in 1953. After leaving Russia in the late 1960s — when the KGB was alleged to have had orders to assassinate her — Peters bounced around India, Europe and finally the United States. She eventually married William Wesley Peters, who was an apprentice to the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The couple even lived for a time at Wright's famous home Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, AZ.

But the part I wanted to know more about, and what The Times probably could not do without violating confidentiality rules, was Peters' time in the Wisconsin nursing home. She wrote two memoirs under her most famous last name, so it's possible that the facility's staff and residents didn't know they had such a historical figure in their midst. Did she share her past with those around her? Would they have believed her if she did?

Ultimately, it doesn't matter if she did. Every long-term care resident has led a remarkable life, regardless of his or her family tree.

To this end, last weekend's New York Times Magazine published its annual “Lives They Lived” issue, which was edited this year by staffers from Chicago Public Radio's show “This American Life.” The magazine tells fascinating stories about people who led ordinary lives — at least by Hollywood standards. And their stories were anything but ordinary.

I'm curious to hear from long-term care workers who commemorate their own residents. The Maine Health Care Association has a program that does this. And a company called LifeBio has a line of products dedicated to helping residents tell their own stories.

What is your facility doing to help document the lives led by your residents?

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.

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