A few weeks ago a new resident moved into our community. As with all new move-ins, our team always strives to prepare, welcome, and properly assimilate each new resident with as few bumps as possible.

Sometimes though, despite our best efforts, that doesn’t happen. Most often it is the result of an explosion of two worlds: the residents and the senior community. This instance in particular got me thinking about how often our interactions resemble an explosion, that although damaging initially, has the potential to be transformed into something beautiful.

Combustible Agent #1 – The Resident and Their Family

In the case we recently experienced, it was a resident who lost his wife of 48 years rather suddenly; a son who had been away from home for several weeks caring for his dying mother (the resident’s wife) and a local daughter, all of whom were thrown into this life changing tailspin with little time to grieve their loss.

They were facing death, a debilitating disease, selling a house, and moving to a completely new environment all at once. Is it any wonder that by the time they arrived, they were anxious to get settled and very concerned about any misstep or imperfectly timed response? Wouldn’t you be if your entire world was just completely turned upside-down?

Combustible Agent #2 – Our Community

We are the “professionals” who do this sort of special work every day. We meet people, assuage their fears, assimilate them into the community, and meet their care needs. Yet, I find that as many times that we have gone through the move-in process, seeking to manage each families expectations, we often seem to suffer from temporary amnesia.

That is to say we forget that often the baggage families bring to our communities is much more than simply their physical belongings. Over and over again we take them at face value, assuming that both sides have been forthright as we enter into the partnership with one another. And that’s when the explosion happens.


It could be in the form of unanswered questions, a nervous staff member, a customer service breakdown, or oftentimes, just the sheer lack of knowing what their new “schedule” should look like. It can be unsettling enough that families and sometimes residents reach the boiling point. The fuse is ignited and the bomb goes off. Perhaps you might recognize some of these common statements after the explosion happens:

  • no one answered my questions
  • you weren’t here on time
  • my phone, tv or ________ isn’t working properly
  • I’m unhappy

The Recovery Efforts

When the bomb goes off, everything changes. We are left with a choice; regroup and reorganize, or simply retreat. The latter admits defeat while the former provides an occasion for both parties to fly the white flag and begin creating something new from the fallout.

Staff is tempted to turn and run the other way from the unhappy situation and the resident and their family look for every opportunity to remind us again of our failures — both real and perceived. If it isn’t handled with grace and wisdom, the results can be caustic. It can mean mistrust, unhappiness, and if not resolved, moving to another community.

Laying Down our Arms

Post-explosion, a unique opportunity presents itself.

As a community we are given the opportunity to lay down our arms instead of stubbornly sticking to them to prove we are right, and really see the resident and their family. Not their surface demands or behaviors, but below the surface of the words and the actions to look at the heart of the matter. And in nearly every case it is the same; love for their family member. It manifests itself in many different ways and sometimes in some strange requests, but the source almost always comes from a deep concern that their loved one will be well taken care of; and that since they cannot do it themselves, they must have reassurance that we can do it effectively.

When we as a staff remember that truth, it makes it easier to lay aside our desire to be right; to quote regulations for protection. We can then face them head-on to dispel their fears and reassure them that they made the right choice. Sometimes it means admitting we didn’t do everything perfectly, sitting down with that tough family member, and most of all, marching forward in a continuous effort to display our commitment to caring for our residents.

A Happy Ending

I’m thrilled to report this story had a happy ending. The aforementioned resident’s son met with me briefly in the hall just before he flew back home and he shared the following;

“Most organizations have a bell curve; employees scattered on the spectrum of performance. I don’t know how you did it, but your community doesn’t seem to have one.

“All your staff, from the housekeepers to the caregivers to the managers seem to be committed to doing absolutely everything they can to make our dad’s transition a good one. Even with some of the bumps at the beginning, the staff were dedicated to making it right and fixing any issues.”

I may not have quoted him perfectly, but the essence is very evident; because we were willing to lay aside our own loaded expectations we were able to come alongside this family and help them start this journey feeling as though they are not alone.

I’ve thought long and hard about that conversation over the last couple weeks and it’s spurred me to continue to lead the charge in waving the white flag, laying down our need to be right, and embracing the people who come though our doors by offering to shoulder some of that baggage we often can’t immediately see.

And finally, it’s reminded me of our all-important role in spotting the impending collisions of the two worlds and diffusing it before it reaches the combustion point.