By John Gonzales

I recently watched a movie starring Anthony Hopkins called, The Father. I highly recommend it for anyone working with seniors – especially those afflicted with memory loss. There are no special effects, no spectacular costumes, no memorable songs – just a story of a father’s walk through the dark and his struggle to keep his memories as they slowly fall away, like summer’s foliage as the cold winter creeps in. In a fleeting moment of clarity, he realizes what’s happening to him.  He sits on his bed looking outside and says, “I feel as though I’m losing all my leaves.”

What was the best movie you’ve seen, and which had the biggest impact on your life? What about the one that you can watch over and over again and never tire of? Some of the most highly rated movies according to IMBd include:

  • The Godfather
  • West Side Story
  • Schindler’s List
  • Casablanca

Some of the worst include:

  • Battlefield Earth
  • Gigli
  • Sex Lives of the Potato Men (yes…seriously)
  • Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2

What’s the Difference?

So, what differentiates a good movie from a bad one? Is it the special effects? The A-list actors? No . . . it’s the story.

If you’re a parent you likely have a favorite Disney movie – The Lion King, Finding Nemo, or Toy Story. These movies resonate strongly with us because of the stories. We find ourselves in Marlin’s shoes (or fins), willing to go to the ends of the earth to rescue his son, Nemo. Or in Simba’s struggle to discover his true self while being stalked by hyenas.

These are familiar stories and characters that evoke memories, nostalgia, and emotions. Remember the wonder in your child’s eyes when Woody and Buzz came to life? How many times did you sing, “Let It Go,” with your daughter?

We know these stories by heart and appreciate them because they’ve touched ours.

A Teaching Tool

I use this concept in many of the training sessions I conduct. I use a clip from the movie, Up. It’s 11 minutes long. No dialogue. Just a story of the ordinary life of an ordinary man. His experiences and memories, some happy, some sad. Joy and tragedy. But it’s mostly about love. First found, and then lost.

It’s a powerful reminder that every resident we serve has a unique story that goes far deeper than what we see on the surface. He’s not just the new resident moving into apartment #265: the 80-year-old curmudgeon with the cane who’s always in a foul mood. No – this man’s life story is so much deeper and knowing his story can make all the difference to him, his family, your staff, and you.

It’s Not Just Your Story

The awareness that yours isn’t the only story you’re writing today is profound. -We all play parts in the stories of those around us, personally and professionally. Tragically, some people insist on pulling people into their stories while failing to recognize their role in the tales of others’.

I’ve learned some valuable life lessons from conducting story training over the years. First, I’ve learned that we can “choose” whose story we will be part of — every minute of every day. I’ve also learned by playing my part in others’ stories  —  the more I acted out my character, the more I felt like myself. The more I felt that – the more I became that person.  Whether a leader, an empathetic friend, a loving husband, or a silly dad.

Celebrating Stories – Old and New

We know that we are uniquely called upon to celebrate the lives of our residents. And to provide them with the story lines, characters, stage, and settings to ensure their stories continue to grow deeper. If we are doing our jobs correctly, we approach each day with the awareness that we are here to be a part of their stories; our residents do not live in our communities to be a part of ours.

We can have a tremendous impact on the pages of others’ stories once we recognize and embrace the part that we play in them. I challenge you to try this with your residents, your staff, and your families.

Know their book, read it. Share and celebrate your residents’ unique stories with your staff, then turn the page and keep writing with them. What will the title be of their next chapter?