Every day, all of us who know and support residents, clients, families and friends who live and come to these communal homes have encounters that may challenge what we think we know. Assumptions can be made about individuals who have many, many years of life lived before we ever meet them in the care home. These assumptions can lead to seeing someone only in the way that we know them at this time, in this place. Understanding and appreciating the rich story each person has lived is an important part of helping people to continue living life positively.
Last summer, we were fortunate to have summer students work with us. One project involved getting to residents and their stories. Eye-catching ‘getting to know me’ posters were created that, if residents agreed, were mounted on a wall in their room, as well as placed in their chart. The experience of meeting with everyone and listening to their stories was powerful for the student. It was also powerful to hear and see these stories, once written. What is recorded gives us a taste of lives lived and opportunities to have conversation, to hear people reminisce, and to offer ways to help people remember. It helps us know and understand the whole person in all their time—the past, the present and the future.
One person shared stories about living in Africa, including falling into a hole and waiting to be rescued. Someone else loved Dixieland jazz and would dance at every opportunity. A third person said the most important day of his life was when he did not die in a truck accident.
When someone moves in, we encourage caregivers to bring mementoes and pictures to open conversations, bring back memories, and help give comfort. A picture of someone in a Canucks jersey leads to an invitation to watch the hockey game on television. A knitted afghan tells us about a lifelong hobby. A photo of grandchildren is a source of pride.
Seeing past immediate and present physical challenges brings a lifetime of experiences, journeys and stories. The people who come to these care homes are the grandmother, the uncle, the teacher, the bookkeeper, the volunteer, the farmer—people who loved, fished, harvested, stitched, hugged, baked, and built. It is our obligation to honour who these people have been throughout their lifetime, including at this moment. We support and care so much better when we make these life story connections.
~ Heidi Mannis, Chief Executive Officer