By Wendy Reinhard
My earliest awareness of the concept of aging and disability came when I was just a young girl, when my beloved grandmother was placed in a nursing home after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Imagine if you will, making the long trek from the Twin Cities to Southeastern Minnesota weekly to visit, only to be greeted with residents parked down the hall in wheel chairs, most in a stupor, and the smell of urine and disinfectant hitting your nostrils as soon as you walked through the doors. The atmosphere was far from celebrating life, it was about the end of it. It was the kind of place that no one wanted to go to and people didn’t visit often because the experience was so very unpleasant. I am sure many of you have had experiences similar to mine however a lot has changed since then. The landscape of senior housing and care is consistently evolving and there are more options out there than ever before. Senior living is much more than nursing homes, it is about life and capturing it in a positive and healthy atmosphere. It’s about embracing the aging, in their current situation and guiding them and their families through the process necessary in choosing a future living and care community.
My experiences since that time of my youth have forged an empathy for the aging and their families. This early experience contributed significantly to the shaping of my approach to my work as a senior care advisor.
Although most of you have probably heard a version of this story, the original was created by the writer; Loren Eiseley and was published back in 1969. It has had many variations since then, this is one of my favorites:
An old man had a habit of early morning walks on the beach. One day, after a storm, he saw a human figure in the distance moving like a dancer. As he came closer he saw that it was a young woman and she was not dancing but was reaching down to the sand, picking up a starfish and very gently throwing them into the ocean.
“Young lady,” he asked, “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”
“The sun is up, and the tide is going out and if I do not throw them in they will die.”
“But young lady, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You cannot possibly make a difference.”
The young woman listened politely paused and then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves, saying “It made a difference to that one.”
The seniors and their families that I come alongside of as a professional become a part of my family. This is not a job, it is my passion. It is a journey of discovery, life and all that it has to offer. Each person that I work with is like that starfish, I make a difference in their lives.