Question: What do senior living residents and onions have in common?
Question: What do senior living residents and onions have in common? Answer: Both need to be peeled layer-by-layer to get to the best parts.
I’ve thought a lot about this connection. Onions have papery, often slightly sticky skin that often peels off in multiple pieces. Trying to peel it can be frustrating as you pick at the small, fractured pieces that don’t want to come off without a fight. Once that task is complete and you begin to cut it up, depending upon the type, often it induces tears. And the more you rub your eyes, the worse it gets. It isn’t until it’s chopped and thrown into a pan with some butter or oil that it releases it’s robust aromas and adds depth to a variety of dishes.
Residents and Onions
Now let’s apply that same pattern of peeling an onion to our interaction with our residents. At the outset they may be gruff, bristly, and I’ve known more than a few who have been known to yell or even scream if not happy. As you get to know them you start to see that under that skin there is some warmth, albeit spotty and stubborn in some spots. Just when you think you are making progress and abolishing that skin once and for all, the tears start. Maybe they tell you how lousy they think you are, or won’t smile no matter how much you cajole and beg. Or they point out every single negative thing in the community that they could possibly imagine.
Persistence Pays Off
But eventually, in most cases, persistence pays off and you start to see them soften after the continual barrage of kindness and concerted efforts to connect. Perhaps it’s that one staff member who creates a bond with them or that instance they allow you to see their vulnerability beneath the tough facade. It may take months or even longer, but there is almost without exception a moment when the tide turns. And when it does, it is transformational. They become your ally, cheerleader, and fiercest defender. That’s not so say they won’t continue to give you a hard time every now and again, or that their personality will suddenly become syrupy sweet; it won’t. But it is important to note that they will think a little harder before being so challenging because they have a relationship with the ones with whom they are about to wound. And that makes them think twice about the barbs they may hurl.
Push through the Tears
So the next time you peel an onion, I challenge you to think about those hard residents in your communities. Imagine ways you can peel your way past those outer layers, and push through the tears to the core that will create a beautiful aroma when mingled with the right ingredients. But don’t stop there; let that motivate you to action. Actively search for those “onions” to peel and you’ll see a difference in them as you take the time to get past those unsavory outer layers to the tender, aromatic inner parts. Leslie Steve Moran If you like this article (or even if you don’t) it would be a great honor to have you subscribe to our mailing list HERE
This certainly resonates, both with prospects and with residents. I’ve learned and realize that how they feel is “not about me,” although often we have to deal with that exact behavior . . . “it’s all about me.” In a community setting, it can’t always be that way so I’ve learned that the anger and “acting out” is often motivated by fear. Real primal fear: fear about changing bodies letting them know in a real way that indeed, despite what they think, they are aging, or even approaching death. Losing control in this way often results in the desire to try and control something that may be out of proportion in any other environment or circumstance. This is where looking them in the eye, showing compassion even during the attack, acknowledging what they’re saying, all helps shed that outer crusty part of the onion to reveal the real person and issue inside. It’s hard to stand in place and be verbally abused sometimes, but we’re the ones still working and there as guides, not to judge. We, too, will be in those shoes one day ourselves.
Thank you for those wise words. That is exactly the goal I had in mind by using the onion metaphor. You beautifully re-stated the truth that so many of us live out daily as we serve these remarkable individuals. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts.
Thank you for those wise words. It’s hard to stand in place and be verbally abused sometimes, but we’re the ones still working and there as guides, not to judge. We, too, will be in those shoes one day ourselves.