I once had one of my managers ask me why I tolerated a particular resident who was so unkind to me

By Leslie Quintanar

I once had one of my managers ask me why I tolerated a particular resident who was so unkind to me at times. My reply was ” because I know that his issue isn’t really with me but with the way his life has unfolded. He never expected to be in a senior community but knew he had to be because he was watching his wife slip away from him into the vicious storm that is Alzheimer’s disease. So yes, I know he is unkind at times but I try to keep in mind that behind it all he is a sad man who is doing his best to cling to hope in the midst of some really tough circumstances. That allows me to continue to be kind even when he isn’t. ” (And lest I sound too pious, sometimes he really gave me a run for my money and I was frustrated inside, but I tried very hard not to show it on the outside.)

I’ve heard the quote ” Be kind to everyone as you never know what battles they may be fighting.” And as years pass I am more and more convinced that we are all living in varying degrees of mess as a result of those battles. Maybe it’s our family, our job, spouse, mental heath, loss, financial struggles, or in many cases, self-inflicted problems. The bottom line is that we are all messy in some way. As we go through life we learn to hide it and keep people at arms length with platitudinous replies and smiles when we may be screaming inwardly.

I’ve noticed though that as people get much older, they stop putting up those facades and are much more apt to tell the truth. They may try to hide it briefly but it is much easier for the real truth to make an appearance. Unlike many of us who are still in the throes of careers, children, and making our mark on the world, they are past all those things and often able to look back and see what was valuable and what wasn’t. Therefore they place a greater import upon the truth- even when it isn’t pretty. They aren’t afraid to let others see their messes.

 Its a Brutiful Life

One of the women I’ve read recently is Glennon Melton Doyle and she has coined the term “brutiful” about what life is like if we are honest about all of our messiness. It’s a combination of brutal and beautiful and I think it perfectly describes our messes. We are unique and remarkable and yet there are things in our lives that are so brutal they often seem as though they may break us. She asserts that there is a real beauty in being honest and forthright with our mess and allowing others in to join us in this journey through life.

I find this particularly applicable to our residents in our communities. After all, they are looking at our residences as possibly the the last place they may ever live. They are done with making money in the sense of a career, and they have the time to reflect upon the landscape of their lives and come to terms with the fact that in many cases it wasn’t what they expected. For some that is a welcome realization, and for others it is agonizing. The mess out weighs the beauty. There is far more brutal than beautiful and they know they don’t get a do-over.

Here is where we come in. We get to meet them in the middle of their messiness, which may manifest itself in ugly behavior, unkind words, or just plain old complaining, and we find ways to embrace them in the middle of it all. It might mean being a listening ear, sounding board, a hand to hold, and sometimes just being present every day in their lives at a time when they are wrestling with their messes. It’s a hard job. Sometimes we want to run the other way. Sometimes we want to avoid hard conversations, and sometimes we just don’t want to hear another ” problem”. 

Its Voluntary

But we signed up for this, remember? We elected to come into an industry that serves an aging population and all the dynamics that go along with the roles we occupy. We decided that we’d step into the messes and help highlight the beautiful things that can be found in their midst. When we are honest about our own messiness we can be more effective in entering into meaningful relationships with our residents because we know that we love it when people are gentle and kind with us when they see our messes. Instead of shrinking away from less than stellar behavior, we can walk into the middle of it all and support each of our residents as they go through their messes and joys and all with the cornucopia of emotions that go along with their brutiful lives.

Don’t be afraid of the messes.

Look at them as a part of the brutiful lives we have the privilege of serving.

Jump in and you’ll be surprised how much it will impact your own life.