One of the great privileges of my vocation is that I am regularly welcomed in a number of care homes. Sometimes it’s for visits, sometimes for service or bible study, sometimes in a teaching capacity. Whatever the circumstance, the welcome is always the same: warm. I have been visiting care homes professionally for over 15 years, and have yet to receive a welcome that was only lukewarm, or cool. This regular attendance affords me the opportunity to witness – and reflect – on the people who work there, and the astounding ministry they exercise.
The staff are quite eager to say hello, help me find someone in particular, laugh with me through a training, be present as we journey with a family preparing to say goodbye. They assist me in whatever way they can.
The folks who work at the care home are definitely called to this unique and impressive ministry. The nurses show such patience and care, providing services that the average person on the street can’t even imagine. And, usually, they do this with a smile. Always, in my experience, they do this with profound respect and dignity for the resident, regardless of their personal mood or how challenging the situation is.
The activities coordinators astound me; they keep the minds and bodies of residents as active as possible, with music and games and guests and a plethora of other things. They provide unique and entertaining activities that are seasonally appropriate and at the right skill level – I’m almost always seeing new decorations or handiwork of residents, usually because the residents are showing them off. From the garden table to papercrafts to flower arranging to woodwork – there’s always something on the go. And for those who are more introverted, there are card tables, puzzles, books – I know several activities staff who search regularly (in their own time, with their own money) to find things that will have meaning to the individuals they care for.
Even the cleaning staff and cooks – these are people who go out of their way to make every day a good day. Of course, their first priority is the safety and wellbeing of the people, so they focus on keeping things clean and tidy, walkways clear, the meals nutritious and balanced. But they also get to know who has favourites, and adapt menus accordingly. They know when someone has visitors, so they plan to clean another area during that time. Quite often their respect is demonstrated by being unseen.
It’s a difficult place to work. The residents aren’t always in the best emotional state, many are struggling with mental or physical ailments, and they all know this is likely their last earthly address. They have good days and bad, some are more friendly than others, some are more work than others, some are more aware/capable than others. And this changes; the staff are living in a constant cycle of watching decline and saying good-bye yet they bring a smile into their work and try to bring out the best for the residents.
And I truly believe that the majority of the residents appreciate it. I know that my visits are always greeted with a grateful smile whether it’s my first time there or just the first time they remember me being there.
I also know that my presence there is just a tiny piece of a much larger picture; a half-hour or hour a week just one small segment of an activities calendar. But what a great opportunity to work with these care home saints, to see love in action. I’m fairly certain I couldn’t do that work, so instead I give thanks to God for them, and hold them all in my prayers, and hope that when my time comes to be in a care home that it will still be a place where Christian love is fully lived out.