“What can I do for my 98 yr old father who lives in an Assisted living center right now?” The waitress asked me as she handed me the check through my car window. She’d overheard me talking about Massage Inc, providers of geriatric massage for assisted living centers nationwide. The company I founded
in 2014. The assisted living industry’s been hit hard by COVID-19. But because business can’t stop, I was there that day sitting in that PF Changs parking lot having just finished up a virtual meeting. It’s a quirky term to describe two professional’s sitting in their cars (separately) eating lunch while talking together on their cell phones.
Her name was Josslyn, the waitress and she went on to say “he’s 98 and yesterday he asked me to pray for him to die.” Tears began to form in both our eyes. “Before COVID-19 he was so active, every time I went to visit him he’d be busy rushing from one event to another.” Nursing homes host a variety of events for their residence, I could picture what she was explaining clearly having worked in the assisted living industry for the past eight years. “But they’ve stopped all of the activities so he’s just sitting in his room now and he’s just beside himself.” This waitress who fondly referred to her father as Pops, was very close with him, I could tell.
You’d be shocked to know how often the elderly sit in nursing homes around the nation, sometimes for weeks on end with no visitors from their immediate family. I’m not casting blame, the reality is we all live very busy lives, our carriers are demanding, there are children to raise etc. Some families simply just live too far away from the nursing home where their parents or grandparents reside. Some families frankly don’t feel comfortable seeing their loved ones declining health and so they avoid visiting for personal reasons. Regardless of the “why”, I could tell she was one of the rare one’s.
Josslyn belongs to the type of family who visit Grandpa weekly, without fail. They meet him on his terms. It’s not easy, in fact it's just flat out boring, but they do it. Now, add COVID-19 to the mix… these are the rare one’s you see on TV standing outside Grandpa’s window, singing. Holding signs that say We Love You Dad. Stay Strong!
“I’m OK with him dying, I just don’t want it to be like this. Not now! Not under these circumstances.” I could feel her pain as the tears rolled down her eyes. And then she asked me…. The big question. “Is there anything I can do for him right now?” “Yes.” I replied. “But it’s going to be hard.” We took a deep breath together in synchrony (it just came naturally) and then I said
“He needs you to let him go.”
Stop and put yourself in Pop’s shoes for a minute. I’d be scared right now, wouldn’t you? But what Pop’s is showing us here is that he’s mentally strong. He’s arrived at an appropriate phase in life, which he’s appropriately processing. Not to mention he’s handling this COVID-19 curve ball, like a bad ass. I have the feeling badass runs in their family. What Grandpa really wants to hear is THAT YOU’RE GOING TO BE OK.
Using the pregnant mother analogy, Pops is her baby. He can’t help but be born. Or be dead. So give him the love that he need’s right now. Even if you have to lie to him, SAY TO HIM THAT YOU’RE GOING TO BE OK. Pops is going to die. Inevitably. He’s aware of that. He’s accepted it. Whenever it is to happen. But Joslyn, hasn’t. Again, using the pregnant mother analogy, it wasn’t until that moment (between me & her that we found ourselves sharing in the PF Changs parking lot) that it became appropriate. It’s like the moment the mother looks down to read the pregnancy test she’s just taken… and see’s that big ole’ (+) sign.
“That’s what you could do for Pops right now”. I said, forcing the words from my lips. Even for me, a veteran of saying good-bye’s …it’s still hard. Josslyn with a sigh, took a deep breath and said “OK, I can do that. I mean, I’ll do whatever he needs from me right now, so I’ll do that.”
Like I said, she’s one of the rare one’s.
Now, at this point, the hymn “Amazing Grace” was playing as the backdrop of this moment I found myself sharing with Josslyn, the waitress from heaven. In my head. You can picture the seen. So, I dove deeper.
“Does your father believe in any sort of a higher power?” I asked.
*Remember by nature of my work, I’ve met many a dying individual in my day, like death-bed, dying…and from that I’ve learned its NOT MY PLACE to challenge the name of what has been someone’s lifetime of belief. My job is to bring peace to elderly. To touch, to soothe the millions of people (80-100yrs old) living in assisted living centers throughout the country. Through massage therapy. Over the years & countless conversations my team of healers and I have all come to the conclusion that using the word “Higher Power” is the best choice when referring to diety.
“Yes.” She said firmly.
I don’t know what I would’ve said had she replied “No.” Thankfully I didn’t have to find out. I went on to explain how important it is for residents of assisted living centers to feel needed. It's remarkable how motivated they become when being tasked with something to do that they feel is contributing to the communal good. Companies have figured this out. That’s why you’ll find an entire department dedicated to "activities” inside every nursing home across America. COVID-19 threw us a curve ball though - suddenly seniors have been robbed of any activity.
“Then ask Pops to take on the task of praying for all the people of the world right now. Earnestly & without ceasing. Like really squeeze that lemon for all its juice.”
She giggled, wiping the tears from her cheeks. Prayer to a higher power is something that he can do right now that contributes to the communal good & is desperately needed. COVID-19 can’t put a band on praying. It's not tangible, it doesn’t require 6 ft between people, and it's an activity he can do at will in the freedom of his own room. “Give him that mission. It’ll help to keep him motivated right now.” I said in closing. We took another deep breath together & just let that soak in. A shared sort of we-got-this notion surrounded us, me and Joslyn there in that PF Changs parking lot in that moment. In the glory of our COVID-19 masks and all, surrounded by a strange time. With the peace that somehow, its all gonna be alright.
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