At a long-term care facility I visited on Valentine’s Day, love was definitely in the air. And in the hands of the staff and volunteers of all ages who scurried up and down the halls, knocking on doors and handing roses to surprised and delighted residents.
This particular local celebration was just a small part of the Cupid Crew program, a national movement created by Wish of a Lifetime that this year delivered nearly 50,000 roses to seniors across the country.
Looking around the festively decorated dining room, I was reminded that love takes all sorts of shapes and sizes. One adorable resident couple, each in their 90s, actually met at the facility and simply sat holding hands and sipping sparkling apple juice with big smiles on their faces, clearly basking in their serendipitous connection.
Nearby sat a husband and wife who’d been together 56 years, and raised eight kids together. She was recovering from a severe stroke, and theirs was the kind of love everyone longs for and some actually experience — unconditional devotion for better and worse, through sickness and health.
As I chatted with them, they expressed another of love’s varietals — for a speech therapist who is helping her battle back and regain her independence. He wandered over to join us, and talked about how inspiring it was to be part of their journey. “The level of motivation and courage they both show is really amazing,” he said, “and has done wonders in the recovery process.” His is a love shared by virtually every post-acute rehab therapist I’ve ever known — tirelessly expressed as skill and devotion.
Love was also revealed among the volunteers, including several children, who brought particular delight to the residents’ faces as they gingerly approached with tiny, rose-clutching hands outstretched. Theirs was a shy and fearful love, but though often awestruck into silence they were obviously enthralled. For some, this might have been a first close encounter with an aging human, and I believe a seed of respect and affection was planted.
Overarching the entire celebration was the prodigious and legendary love of the facility staff who put so much energy into creating a festive Valentine’s atmosphere, and who delighted in all the attention their residents were getting. As anyone connected to this profession has witnessed untold times, their love for those they serve is steadfast and consistent across all long-term care settings.
The card attached to each rose expressed their devotion eloquently with a quote often attributed (perhaps wrongly) to John Lennon. “It matters not who you love, where you love, why you love, when you love or how you love, it matters only that you love.” Long-term care staff clearly have taken those words to heart, as love is what ceaselessly animates and motivates them. Even in the absence of a monetary reward commensurate with their efforts, it somehow fuels this entire flawed long-term care system.
All of which suddenly reminds me of a friend I know in a more northern clime who has established what she calls “a long-term arrangement” with the birds in her yard. They hang out and do joyful bird things, and in return she dutifully provides nourishment year-round.
During one particular cold spell, she noticed the hummingbird feeder was frozen, so she brought it inside to thaw and refill. Before she had even turned from replacing it back on the porch, the tiny bird reappeared, hovering a moment before whirring straight to the replenished buffet. Over the next few minutes, she reports, it proceeded to virtually drink its body weight, darting away and then returning over and over, buzzing between the snowflakes.
When finally sated, the hummingbird perched on a nearby wire and began to chirp what appeared to be a clear message of thanks, and my friend even caught herself saying, “You’re welcome” — out loud. “It felt nice to provide something to another living thing and watch as my actions were not only noted, but enthusiastically praised,” she told me.
Sustaining and nurturing vulnerable lives in winter. That’s what she did, and that’s what you do, along with all others who provide care to seniors, on Valentine’s Day and beyond.
Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.