If anyone had told us we’d have to work at staying connected with Mom, we would have laughed in disbelief.
A guest contribution by Sue Ronnenkamp, Corporate Director of Community Life for Wesley Enhanced Living
Mom’s story differs greatly from Dad’s. She had her first stroke in 2000 at age 78. Pre-stroke, if anyone had told us we’d have to work at staying connected with Mom, we would have laughed in disbelief. Mom was one of the greatest connectors in the world. She was warm and generous and interested and could easily start up a conversation with anyone who crossed her path. Dad even kidded Mom about this and told her she could talk to a park bench or tree – if no one was around. This is how much she loved talking and connecting!
But after the stroke, this all changed and with each passing year got harder as Mom became quieter and less verbal. We never gave up on staying connected to Mom, but it wasn’t easy and we relied a lot on Dad to take the lead with this. Then he died and left a big hole in Mom’s daily life. That’s when my siblings and I were pushed to look for ways to ramp up our connection with Mom.
Luckily, I discovered the Skype set-up in the computer room at her nursing care facility and we started using this communication tool. What a God-send this was! We could see mom from states away and keep tabs on how she was doing and feeling. Best of all, it provided a way to stay connected with Mom on a much more personal level between visits and opened a door for Mom to experience more of our lives again. She especially enjoyed seeing and connecting with our dogs via Skype – the icing on the cake with this technology tool for this avid pet lover!
When Mom lost her ability to use the phone, Skype became even more important. With the help of a laptop and WIFI throughout the building, we connected with Mom via Skype right from her room. This form of connecting allowed us all to be with Mom the last full day of her life. Using Skype, I sat with her for over an hour that afternoon and could see that Mom was peaceful and not in distress. I was able to talk “face-to-face” with some of the staff, along with the hospice nurse when he made his final visit. My sister got to do the same. I never dreamt that we’d use Skype this way, but what a gift.
In the last years of Mom’s life we also found a way to reconnect Mom to her memories and the people she loved. This was accomplished by scanning old family photos to create several slide shows that played daily on the digital frame in Mom’s room (specially selected for the auto turn on and turn off feature and ability to choose the length of time each photo shows up on the frame).
At first, Mom had trouble recognizing the people in the pictures – but after only a few days, the memories came back to her and she repeatedly told me how much she loved this gift. It also gave us a new way to connect with her, because we could always talk about the pictures and our memories. These experiences helped us realize that we could still share with Mom – something that helped us and allowed us to have good final talks with her before she died. Again, what an amazing and grace-filled gift!
Technology as a Powerful Connecting Tool
I hope that this story of how today’s readily available technology benefited my parents and my family will help many others stay connected too. My family’s experiences can also be a reminder to utilize and make the most of technology and see it as a creative problem solving tool. Key for me was learning that we should never give up on connecting with the people we love and care about – no matter how much they change and no matter the circumstances. The lights can still be turned on inside if we put enough thought and effort and creative thinking into the connecting process.
The value and power of face-to-face communication was also reinforced for me and reminded me that this should never be forgotten or discounted, even if it happens via new forms of connecting like Skype.
Thanks to today’s technology, staying connected with those we love, care about, and support can be accomplished and maintained. We’re putting this into practice in our Wesley Enhanced Living senior living communities by offering existing technologies for connecting, as well as making our communities more “technology friendly” with the expansion of WIFI and increased training and tech support for the residents and their devices. Anything and everything that can help us fulfill essential human needs, like connecting in meaningful ways, supports our mission to make a compelling difference in the lives of our residents.
You Can Access Part 1 Staying Connected with the Help of Technology, Part 1 here