Nursing Home Trip January 2015

Hello, my name is Rachel Stetler.  I am the Office Manager at the Dental Office of Dr. Christine R. Wenrick.This past weekend our office participated in a community outreach.  Dr. Wenrick, Rebekah Cook, myself, my husband Alan Stetler, Connor Lopshire, and Caleb Story took a trip to Signature Care Nursing Home to spend our morning with the residents.  Since this trip I have been inspired to share with you our experience.

I woke up Saturday morning not really knowing what to expect about this new journey. We had spent the week preparing an acoustic set with song selections ranging from Elvis and Johnny Cash to Rihanna and One Republic.  In all honesty, (thanks to Hollywood) I personally thought that a nursing home was a place where people retire, and live together in peace and harmony, play bingo, eat mashed potatoes and cottage cheese, have Valentine’s Day sock hops, and Summertime ice cream socials, or whatever. So I figured that our carefully prepared set and our bright young energetic faces were sure to get the nice elderly folks clapping, laughing, and moving their feet.

We arrived at the home where we were led to a large dining hall with a dozen or so chair-less tables.  A wall was cleared for us where we began to set up our gear. A staff member announced she would begin to bring in the residents.  Dr. Wenrick followed to assist.   Shortly after, they entered into the dining room each pushing a wheelchair which they parked facing our wall, and then turned around to repeat the process. Trip after trip each resident was carefully pushed into the dining hall. As the residents were being rolled in, I quickly realized that my Hollywood perception had failed me.

We were instructed to begin. I looked up at our audience with a smile and a “thank you for allowing us to spend time with you!” only to see about 30 people with blank faces and hanging heads and no smiles.  At that moment my heart broke.

Everyone looked so sad.  There was no spark, no hint of will or passion. The theme of the room was all hope is lost. It’s like they were just waiting to die.

Connor turned to me and mumbled “maybe ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ (Johnny Cash) wasn’t a good song to start with after all”. I was nervous at that point, and very uncomfortable. Letting my self-conscience get the best of me thinking at this point, “Why did we sign up to participate in this awkward situation”? I looked back at Alan who gave me a wink, then looked at Connor , we both took a deep breath and began- “I hear a train a coming…..”

I am pleased to say that we made it through our set.  It was beautiful music.  We didn’t gain much reaction during our performance, maybe a few cricket chirps here and there, a gracious hand clap from a staff member, and a few others. There was a women sitting in the back of the hall sitting with her mother who was a resident. This resident hung her head, and looked at the floor the entire time. The women who I think was the residents daughter, had tears in her eyes the entire hour. I believe this woman was struggling with the heaviness of the room and her poor mother being in the home. There was also a man that was sitting with a resident that I believed to be his mother as well.

When I finally announced that we would be leaving them with the final song of Happy Trails by Roy Rogers,  an employee spoke up in an eager tone, “Are you all going to be coming back? ‘They’ (as in the residents) are already asking. They have enjoyed this so much!”

We played our last song.  As we began to pack up, the residents began to be ushered out. Both family members of residents came by and thanked us. Several employees came by and thanked us.  Finally a sweet resident approached us in her chair, and introduced herself as Peggy Sanders.  Ms. Peggy just went on and on about how great we were, and how everyone really appreciated and enjoyed what we did. She told us how she was in the home because she was sick, and that this was really what she needed to have a good Saturday.  She said, “This place really needs youngsters like you to come in and make us smile.” She insisted on us returning soon, so we promised we would. 

On the car ride home I couldn’t stop thinking of those faces of the residents.  I couldn’t stop thinking of the son of a resident, or the daughter of the resident that sat in the back wiping tears of sadness out of her eyes. I also felt grateful for the beautiful people who are strong enough to choose to have a career in this field; I know that I couldn’t handle it. These employees truly have a job that goes unappreciated in our society.  Our entire group agreed on how these residents, employees, and family members just need something positive to look forward to.

It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to have the invitation and doors open for us to return to help provide joy and smiles to the residents of this home. We look forward to returning the last Saturday of every month.  We already have residents sending in song requests for our next trip. The staff has asked us to continue to return as much as we possibly can. We pray that as the month’s progress that anticipation builds more and more with each visit for our return. It is nice to know that just showing up and being who we are has caused these lovely people to have something to look forward to.

Our next visit it February 28th. We are all excited to return.

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