Editor’s note: Let’s lift January! The holidays are over, but goodwill doesn’t have to end. Reporters Karen Bjornland and Kelly de la Rocha seek expert advice this month on ways to brighten lives through simple acts of kindness. They’ll put what they learn into action and report on their efforts each Saturday in The Gazette.
When I walk into the nursing home, without fail, words abandon me.
As I make my way to my father-in-law’s room in Schuyler Ridge Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Clifton Park, I rack my brain for things to say.
These days, Carlos struggles to communicate. He’s only able to speak a few hard-to-understand words at a time, so the conversation is mostly one-sided.
I stumble through accounts of what my kids are up to and then draw a blank. So I just stand there.
I’m not always sure he comprehends what I’m saying or knows who I am. I cling to the safety of visiting with others who can help fill the silence.
Wednesday, I got up the courage to go alone.
Share your stories
Have you been the recipient of a surprise act of kindness? Have you done a good deed recently? Let us know about it. Select stories may be published in an upcoming issue of The Gazette.
-- Twitter — use the hashtag #LetsLiftJanuary
-- Facebook — post on The Daily Gazette’s Facebook page
-- U.S. mail — Send your stories to Gazette Reporter Kelly de la Rocha at The Daily Gazette, P.O. Box 1090, Schenectady, NY 12301-1090.
Brushed the snow from the car next to mine in the parking lot tonight after mine was done. Hope it made someone’s day!
— Susan Knapik of Amsterdam
The other day in the Niskayuna branch of First Niagara Bank, I went to fill out paperwork at the desk. I found a wallet, brought it up to the teller, and the fellow at her window was the owner of the wallet. Everyone thanked me.
— Joan Nickel of Alplaus
I brought along my laptop to show Carlos family photos I thought he’d enjoy, an idea given to me by Tracie Denny, director of activities and volunteer services at the Glendale Home in Glenville.
Denny assured me that my visits have value, even if I can’t always tell from Carlos’ reaction.
-- Baptist Health Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Scotia — contact Lou Carol Comley at 370-4700, extension 146
-- Glendale Home, Glenville — contact Tracie Denny at 384-3640
-- Schuyler Ridge Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Clifton Park — 371-1400
“If he’s not able to respond for your peace of mind, he would still know you’re there,” she said.
Denny offered suggestions about how to have a meaningful visit:
-- With permission from nursing home staff, bring along a friendly, immunized pet.
-- Bring young children for a visit.
-- Go for a walk outdoors on a nice day.
-- Surprise the person you’re visiting with a bouquet of flowers.
-- Bring along pictures of the resident’s favorite things.
So there I was Wednesday, armed with my laptop slide show.
“Hi,” I said.
“Hi,” Carlos replied, more alert than I’d seen him in a while.
“It’s good to see you,” I said.
“Yes,” he replied.
“I don’t come to see you enough,” I said.
“I know,” he replied.
“I’m sorry,” I said, promising to visit more often. “I brought some pictures to show you. Want to see them?”
“Sure,” he said, as I flipped open the laptop.
I brought up colorful shots of picnics and holiday celebrations, but his eyes didn’t gravitate to the screen. He just looked at me, his gaze never straying from my face. So I shut the laptop and looked back at him.
We sat that way for a long time.
There were no words.
There didn’t need to be.
If you have a loved one in a nursing home, or even if you don’t, a simple visit can be a great way to lift a resident’s spirits, and yours, too.
Christine Urbano, executive director of Schuyler Ridge, offered additional tips to help make those visits meaningful to both the resident and the visitor:
-- Talk with the residents. They may not always join in the conversation, but you can ask questions or share stories to get the conversation started.
-- Attend an event at the facility with the resident. Participate in the experience together.
-- Sometimes, touch can be very comforting to residents. Simply holding their hand, offering a hug and a smile and just letting them know you care in little ways can be very meaningful.
Volunteer opportunities abound at local nursing homes.
At Schuyler Ridge, volunteers do one-on-one visits, participate in group outings, help with spiritual care programs, garden with residents and more.
Volunteers at Glendale Home read to residents, help them write letters and cards, take them on walks and join in on other activities.
“We’ve had a lot of them make really close bonds with residents who don’t really have family in the area,” Denny said.
At Baptist Health Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Scotia, volunteer activities include teaching classes for residents, painting murals on the windows and transporting residents to in-house events.
Volunteer coordinator Lou Carol Comley said she would love to have volunteers come to sing or play a musical instrument for residents.