Thursday, April 12, 2012


While this appears to have little to do with the Farm at first glance, it has everything to do with the Farm and our seeking of meaning of life.  When my very frail elderly Mother was in the Nursing Home those tender 19 months, we managed to connect with some lovely lovely Elders.  (And great staff too.)

But I have to tell you, those 1st visits there were scary.  We had first to acclimate toward Mother being there.  Her transition was a trauma zone for her and for us.  Staff did their best to help those transitions.

And then we looked around.  Some elderly were sitting with little engagement, as if shelved by family and community in some kind of warehouse.  Staff were doing their best and there are no complaints here.  Those folks combined skill and heart to do the best they could.  But what is a visitor/family member to do?

Melanie and I started taking in what I came to call "elementals" into the nursing home.  My intention was to keep my 86 year old Mother connected to the outside world, the world that had been her life a short time before and somehow always would be, whether we chose to affirm it or not. 

In early May, we took in baby chickens straight from the Post Office on our way to the Farm.  We had taken them to Mother's house the 2 years before.  That first year, she and Dad were there; and the next year she was alone.  Of course, we would take them to the Nursing Home!  We weren't sure it was legal and we couldn't exactly sneak in carrying those exuberantly singing peeps.  Upon our arrival, some very magical things happened.  Residents heard them and some wheeled out of their rooms.  Staff went out of their way too.  We heard all kinds of stories and tips.  Some reached out to the chicks where before they just seemed to stare into space.

Over the coming months, we did many things.  We brought Mother home cooked meals and snacks which included recipes from her Mother.  And she loved it.  We brought old fashioned flowers freshly picked.  We brought strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes in season.  I wore my garden hat which provoked all kinds of sharing including:  Roberta said: "My grandmother always wore a bonnet in the garden; it had cardboard slats in the brim."  I brought pictures of the day to day operation of our farm which I posted on Mother's closet door.  Her roommate Lillie said:  "That's my farm."  We brought homemade Molasses which they loved.  The Activities Director even included a field trip to our farm.  The tiny bus with 16 passengers arrived for a 30 minute visit which we packed with garden produce, views of the garden and the chickens, flowers, and Melanie's homemade Molasses cookies.  One lady at the Nursing Home always mentions how special that day was.  Quite by happenstance, I was able to connect a clown camp performance at the Possibility Alliance with Activities at the Nursing Home.  The residents loved it.  And my dear Mother told one of the clowns:  "Don't ever stop.  Keep on doing what you are doing.  There are a lot of sad people in the world."  Mom passed 2 months later.

I don't know how I came to know this.  But I looked around at the sensory stimulation for the residents and noted that the Nursing Home was almost like visiting a foreign country.  I have traveled a good bit before.  My destinations were places that I had chosen and that I was excited about.

Mother fell and wound up in the Nursing Home.  She fell and wound up in a foreign country which was not of her choosing.  Her body was no way near what it had been before.  Furnishings were different.  She couldn't wear any of her old clothes.  Smells were different.  Food was different. Who knows how their chemistry was different from the drugs that they were on? Lights were on all the time.  Noise was constant.  We could also talk about observations of being poked and prodded.  Privacy, which many clung to before, was defined differently.  Television programs seemed programmed to meet younger staff interests rather than those of the residents.

I began to wonder about the effect of such changes on the mental health of residents.  I am a tactile and visual person.  Bringing in elementals was a "natural".  It was fun for me, and for Melanie and me together.  I had to think about what would be important for Mother (and the other residents).  When we came for visits, we didn't dwell on how she felt (although we didn't ignore it either).  We shared, listened, laughed and played.

I remember Waverly who would always go out of her way to connect with us.  Her standard question was "Now what do you have for us today?"  Oh, yes, you could say that we gave a lot.  But it became easy.  And we got back far more in return.

Just recently, I saw the following video, which is a variation of the same theme.  We have so much to learn from our Elders.  And there is so much inside of them, even the silent ones.  We have only to be patient, stop, watch, listen and learn.

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