To this day, I cannot see lemon meringue pie without being reminded of the woman who taught me to always look beyond the surface.
One of my favorite residents was named Vera Louise. When I call to mind some of my most cherished encounters, she always comes to memory. By the time I knew her she was in skilled nursing with severely limited mobility and some fluctuating cognitive abilities. But in those times, in the afternoon when she would be relaxing in her room, I would often sneak in and sit and chat with her. I loved those talks I had with her and, when she passed away, I was heartbroken. She had made such an impression on me and I knew this world had lost a truly unique individual. Over the years since, my relationship with her has continued to inform my subsequent interactions with residents for reasons too numerous to share in one post. But I’d love to lift the veil and share a few of my most cherished memories and lessons I learned from beautiful Vera Louise. May it inspire you to look a little harder at those lovely souls around you and see their greatness. Each one is unique, each has a story and each has something to teach us. 3 things Vera Louise taught me: 1. Ask questions– after months of working with her, I noticed once, when she received flowers from her son-in-law, that the card read “Louise” and I asked her why it wasn’t addressed to Vera, to which she replied , “that’s what people call me.” I asked several staff members if they knew she went almost exclusively by Louise and not a single staff member had any idea that she never went by Vera. I was ashamed that, as a staff, we hadn’t done a better job at asking questions, knowing her social history and just plain paying attention. 2. Remember that they had lives prior to our acquaintance – By the time residents come to us they are often on the decline, sometimes just a mere shell of their former selves. But no matter how profound the deterioration, it is vital to remember that they are still there. Yes, it may mean waiting a little longer until they can process and answer questions, talking to their family to find out what they were like in previous years, and paying attention to their non-verbal communication- but it’s vital to establishing a worthwhile connection with these residents because, while their outer shell may be wasting away, their inner soul is alive and well. 3. Treat them like adults, not children– Louise had a vast knowledge of nearly every old movie and their corresponding stars, was an accomplished chef and had a wicked sense of humor. Some of my afternoon visits included talks about some of her favorite old movies and, when I did trivia with other residents, she was always included because she could answer nearly everything I asked. Had I chosen to simply call her “honey” or “sweetie” and keep my interaction merely peripheral I would have missed the opportunity to get to know a remarkable woman. Her childrens’ affection and a lasting impression Louise’s children adored her and once told me that, when the space shuttle landed on the moon, she made a the top of her lemon meringue to look like moon craters. They related that she always made their childhood fun and their devotion to her was evident in every visit they made. They even gave me her signature Caesar salad recipe that was a family favorite. I still have it, along with sweet, sweet memories of a woman who was far more than a name she never used. To this day, I cannot see lemon meringue pie without being reminded of the woman who taught me to always look beyond the surface and never be satisfied with a cursory knowledge of each person who enters our communities. Leslie Steve Moran
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