Life Lessons from long-term care

Who hasn’t heard that everything you need to know about life you learn from kindergarten? It’s been common place to reference these lessons for all of us. Share, be fair, say you are sorry so on and so on. All great lessons.

During 2020, I would like to offer we can all learn life lessons from long-term care. These lessons have revealed themselves to me by admiring both our residents and their resilience and from our team members and their tenacity. During this time especially, we can all learn a lot from them. In spite of the pandemic, these are life lessons that will last long after the pandemic and we should plan to reference them forever. Long-term care can teach us all how to live better. No matter what age, kindergarten through centenarian, these 10 lessons need to be shared. Let me explain.

Time is best measured by moments. As much as we would like to fast forward and rush through things or slow down and savor, time marches to its own beat. The best thing to do is hang on for the ride and embrace every moment. Don’t waste time worrying about yesterday or fretting about tomorrow.

You can feel the heart with human touch. Don’t let go too soon. Hold hands just a little longer. Hug when you can and hold tightly with your whole being. The energy between two people helps both of you. What causes the heart to hurt is when human touch is gone. When we can, do it often and cherish the feeling even more.

Tattoos contain ink. Wrinkles hold life. If you ever think about getting a tattoo or even if you have one already, something to consider; if we are all lucky enough, the most beautiful tattoos come in the form of wrinkles. Your life’s path will be permanently displayed all over your body in the form of breathtaking wrinkles. They are proof of a life lived and a testament to strength. Wrinkles should not be erased but cherished as a life line of experiences, good and bad. Wrinkles are stories to be told.

Encourage empathy. No one will ever truly know how another person feels, but if we all practiced empathy often, the world would be a better place. When others hurt you can share in their hurt. You can listen. You don’t know personally how they feel, but you can be there for them, without judgment, without questioning…just listen.

Selflessness survives. If you ever wonder if there are humans out there who are selfless, look no further than employees of long-term care. They consistently put the needs of others before their own. They show up with a smile and care for others every single day. They don’t just provide personal care; they care for others in a way we see often between family members. People aren’t selfless because of paychecks; they are selfless because they are called to do so. We can all learn from the act of selflessness and again, if we practiced it every day, wouldn’t this be a better place for us all?

Complaints or hurting? One thing I have learned about people who complain is there is likely hurt involved. When we hear people complain, it’s important to consider what isn’t being said. The complaint isn’t always about what happened. Couldn’t it be about how the complainer feels? If we ask what is really going on, sometimes we can skip to the true heart of the issue. Sometimes there isn’t an answer or a solution. Having an understanding of the complaint really might not be about the what is being said; it might be a secret worth sharing.

Music heals the spirit and dancing frees the spirit. Music moves us in a way that transcends memory. Even when memory fades, music evokes feelings that create magic. Some of my best memories and most moving moments come while listening to songs. Simple songs. Jesus Loves Me, Let Me Call You Sweetheart, Jack and Diane, Sunday Best are just a few of the songs that warm me. Memories flood in and a smile appears even in the toughest moments. Movement or dancing regardless of ability also changes perspective. It doesn’t matter if you have rhythm, movement and dancing make the body sing.

Masks matter, they aren’t questioned, they are expected. As the rest of the world debates to mask or not mask, we mask. They are not questioned, they just are. We wear masks because we care for one another. We take care of one another. We can learn a lot from what goes on inside these walls.

Love lifts. Say I love you. We say I love you often. We love each other, not because we have to but because we are home together. When we are home, we love. Long-term care isn’t an industry, it’s life. It’s a home where people live and work and share their lives. We love, we lift each other up and we hurt when others hurt. We can’t always fix things, but we are here; we show up and we love. We are all family; we hold each other close, especially now when circumstances have forced separation, we still love.

Give grace and patience. As a competitive coach’s daughter, competing to win has been instilled in me. As my wrinkles become more defined, the more I value grace and patience over winning or being right. This lesson I wish I would have personally learned along time ago, a lesson that is helpful for us all and we can learn it by understanding and looking inside the world of long-term care.

Life lessons from long-term care are certainly reasons to celebrate the silver linings during this unusual time. They offer some comfort as the world seems to be upside down. The simplest but most powerful lessons can sometimes be found in the places we can sometimes take for granted.

Julie Thorson has served Friendship Haven as its President and CEO since 2012. She started with the life plan community that 360 people call home in 1999. The Fort Dodge Senior High graduate started her career in Broadcast news after attending Iowa Central College and The University of Kansas. Thorson is a coach’s daughter at heart started her career in long term care as a part-time nursing home social worker, she is now recognized as a leader in the field of long-term care.


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