Chapter 40: Happy Birthday, Lillian!
Lillian turned 92 today and I was lucky enough to spend a few hours with her. She is a member of our half-day program at a local church. You may recall that I work for a nonprofit that provides day programs for aging adults with chronic diseases – mostly Alzheimer’s or similar dementia. Music from the 1940s and 1950s was playing as the members arrived, usually with their caregiver who is a spouse or adult child. Everyone says hello, gets settled, and has a snack. I was so touched when I watched each caregiver helped their loved one get comfortable and slowly greet each of the members personally.
Lillian was one of the last to arrive today, and we had the throne and crown waiting for her. Even the Happy Birthday welcome sign was ready! She arrived and we got her settled and took pictures. She has white hair, a beautiful smile and was dressed to the nines. I think she knew it was her birthday but I can’t be sure. Daily awareness can vary amongst the members and can even vary from moment to moment! As we passed the birthday card around for everyone to sign (Brenda, another member, is in charge of the cards), Dotty said, “Who is Lillian? I don’t know her!” – even though they spend several days a week together – so I pointed over to Lillian and Dotty had a brief moment of recognition and signed the card.
Usually each day begins with news headlines and puzzles like word search or connect-the-dots, but today we began with a “We Love Lillian” activity. Each member had a chance to share what they loved most about Lillian.
She’s a sweetheart
She looks 13 years old
She’s very nice, I like her, and she’s my friend*
She has a beautiful smile
She’s Winnie the Pooh, she likes honey
*Darlene also said, “Lillian was the first person who welcomed me here! She’s been my friend since the beginning.”
After snack and the Lillian game, we played a game of bingo. Thankfully these were the large print bingo cards, because I need them just like the members do! We used poker chips to cover our bingo numbers when they were called (poker chips in a Baptist church – don’t tell!) and eventually most everyone had BINGO before we finished filling the cards. Seriously, who doesn’t like bingo?
The director of this program is an amazing woman named Louise. She is an artist and was formerly a preschool director for many years. The parallels between working with preschoolers and seniors are remarkable. One needs patience, flexibility, the ability to offer guidance but not “do” for the student/member, and certainly a sense of humor. Louise has all of these and more. She is supported by two volunteers each day, and these women and men are also gifted, lovely people. It’s a joy to spend time there and learn from the best!
I had to leave before lunch but what a treat it was to start my day this way. Of course it prompts me to reflect on my life and career. As a mom, I know what it’s like to parent/guide preschoolers, children and teens (at least I have a slight clue on this last category). And in my last job I was working with adults with developmental disabilities, so I learned how to be patient and listen as those friends communicated and explored their daily routines. And now the gift of working with aging adults! I truly feel as though my life experience to this point brought me to this place. It’s a sobering and exciting realization to see how your past experience has prepared you for the current one. Aren’t we lucky to allow each chapter of our lives to teach us and prepare us for the next step?
When I left the program and I popped in to early voting before heading into the office. I hope the candidates who got my vote are ready and willing to serve the least among us — the children, the disabled and the aging adults, and all of us in between. I like to believe they are. I hope and pray they are. It would be lovely to reach 92 like Lillian has.
Note: Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.