Flower Power at the Memory Care Facility

Carol Jean gardening at home last year

Yesterday on Labor Day I stopped to see what was happening for the holiday at Mom’s new place.  Sadly, this is what was listed on the activities calendar:  “Labor Day” 

Wondering what that meant exactly, I looked around, perplexed.  I might have seen a flag in the dining room, but other than that, the residents were sitting in their armchairs, bored to death, in the central hall, staring at the walls.  I found Mom collapsed on her bed, eyes open, staring at the wall.  This is what $4000 a month gets you, at least on a holiday. 

“I think teenagers run this place,” said Mom.  “I haven’t seen an adult all weekend.”  She was referring to the young staff, who I’d seen dashing around strapped and stressed in the halls, trying to get all their cleaning tasks done with too little time and too few of them stretched thinly.  Mom had a point- they looked awfully fledgling. 

Putting my frustration aside, I coaxed Mom out of the bed and coaxed her out toward the couryard, where the sun was peeking out of the clouds. 

“My gracious,” she said.  “This is wonderful!  Where are we?”  She set off towards a row of geraniums, and instinctively went to work dead-heading them, yelling over her shoulder for me to go get some scissors.  I heard a bang and saw that a very old woman who I’d never seen be anything but comatose on any of my visits had muscled her wheelchair through the heavy door and was heading towards us.  She was mumbling something.

“I didn’t know she could speak,” said Mom, who was eyeing the ancient, wrinkled up lady with a smirk, interested in what would happen next.  The woman, who told us her name was Granny, turned out to be a seasoned gardener, who quickly set to work herself on the deadheading, and ordered my more mobile mother to get the ones she couldn’t reach.  “That’s right,” she nodded approving.  “You look like you know what you’re doing.”

“I’m an old hat,” said Mom.  “Are you the one who takes care of this garden?  I’ve been wondering, because I sure don’t see the staff come out here.”

Granny winked.  “I get in plenty of trouble when they see me come out here,” she said, “But let ’em fuss at me. I outlived all my children and I’m too old to care.”  She snapped off a geranium head and tossed it over her shoulder with moxy.

I left Granny and Carol Jean to their work, and went back to Mom’s room to grab the scissors.  A few of the residents who must have heard us banging through the door had arisen and were making their way to the courtyard door we had left propped open.  By the time I headed back out, there were now six of them enjoying the sun, and more ambling their way down towards us, curious about the “garden party”.  Formerly speechless residents were making excited murmurs and others who never had much to talk about were trying to ask Granny about the flowers.  It was like a great awakening.  The staff were eyeing us a bit suspiciously through the window, but didn’t say anything. 

The outdoor courtyard is a big selling point for families, since the residence is a locked facility, and is supposed to be open at all times for the residents’ pleasure to use independently as they wish, but the realisty is that the unlocked door is too heavy for many of them to open unaided.  Most days the staff are too busy putting out fires to remind or encourage the residents that they can get out there in the sun. 

Mom and Granny were now directing their work crew, and had forgotten all about me.  I was thrilled about their little victory, but it felt bittersweet to know it probably wouldn’t have happened without my visit.  It was a perfect time to slip off, and as I left I heard a concerned staff member yell out to the residents,  “You all need to be in your chairs for dinner.  Come back inside!” 

Why the residents need to sit at the chairs half an hour before meals are served each day is a mystery to me, but I kept my mouth shut, knowing it was about convenience, and knowing my intervention wouldn’t help the mood of the people my mother depends on.

Being Carol Jean’s advocate who always has opinions, suggestions, and concerns, my strategy is to try to remain friendly and supportive with the tired, underpaid staff, and pick my battles in the crazy world of the memory care facility.  But I can’t resist saying that the crazy ones never seem to be the residents!

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