My son is my teacher and he teaches me lessons in the most random of places. Don't get me wrong, I love learning from my child and the lessons that I am to learn from him happen often. It's the when and where the lessons appear that throw me for many curves because I never know when a lesson is in the making. Usually by the time I figure it out, the lesson has concluded. I've said it before and I?ll say it again and again and again and again, that is why he is the teacher and I am the student.
In 2012, I began volunteering in the Outreach program through our church. There were several Outreach programs to choose from and deciding on which one to volunteer for was not easy. A wide range of Outreach programs were offered, from building and repair projects, visiting patients in the VA Hospital, assignments in the local prison system to visiting nursing homes and much much more.
I decided on one program that scared the pants off me and believe it or not, the Outreach assignments in the local prison system did not scare me at all. That actually intrigued me, but that is yet another story for another time. I chose the nursing home assignment. Take in mind that we did not have any family members in any facilities; therefore, visiting a nursing home was something that I had not done in the past. The goal with the nursing home assignment was to visit with as many patients during our time onsite and engage in conversation, give hugs and make the patients feel important and loved.
I felt it was important to burry my fears of the unknown since I had not really been in a nursing home in the past. I really had to dig deep and remind myself that I was not engaging in these visits for me, but rather for the patients. In the back of my mind I knew that the patients did not get much interaction from the outside world, but after hearing details from the Outreach leader, I didn't realize it was as bad as she described. It was then that I absolutely knew that I had to do this specific assignment. Now, take in mind this is not just a one-time outing and it is truly not an assignment, if you really think about it.
During my first visit, I went with the Outreach leader. My goal was to shadow her in order to get a feel of how she interacted with the patients and with the situations at hand. After the initial visit, I went on my own on Saturday morning visits. I asked my son, my teacher, if he would consider joining me. Without missing a beat he immediately agreed. I then thoroughly explained the purpose of my visits to him because the last thing I wanted was for him to arrive and not understand why we were there. After my explanation, he again agreed to join me in my visits to the nursing home. I was both surprised and pleased. I did not expect to get the immediate "yes" response. Just for the record, other than my initial visit, my teacher has joined me on my Saturday visits ever since.
During our visits, my teacher and I have made "new friends" as he put it. While on site, we would enter patient's rooms, talk to them and we help where we could; like wheeling our friends to locations within the facility - the Activities Hall or cafeteria. Occasionally, during the trek down the halls to various locations, we participated in wheelchair races. These races were actually brought on by the patients themselves as my teacher and I pushed from behind. I know what you are probably thinking, and no, we did not hit mach-speed but rather a medium walk at best. We all had fun, especially the patients and that?s what counted.
Let me just say that the patients absolutely loved my teacher and he was like a celebrity getting all the attention. They were drawn to him. The patients just lite up because of the interaction they received from my teacher and me. On some occasions they cried at the site of my teacher and told him how much they loved him. He openly reciprocated the sentiment, which they just loved.
A lot of the patients have Alzheimer's disease and don't remember us form week to week. That didn't stop us from the visits. My teacher actually looked at it with a different perspective.
"Dad." He whispered as we finished up with one patient.
"Yes." I replied.
"How come our friend doesn't remember us any time we come visit." He asked.
"Well, there is a disease called Alzheimer's disease that affects some people as they get older." I explained.
"But it wasn't that long ago that we saw her the last time, it was last week." He pointed out.
"I know what you mean, but that is exactly what the disease is. It affects a person's memory." I stated.
"Will she ever remember us?" He questioned.
"Possibly, but I would say not, based on our experience so far with her not remembering each week." I sighed.
"Hmmm. Okay." He replied.
"But that shouldn't matter to us." I voiced.
"It doesn't. The really cool thing is we could say the same thing each week and she would still love to hear it anyway." He stated with conviction, as a smile appeared on his face.
I couldn't help but chuckle on that one. "That is true, but remember it's not what we say as much as how important it is that we are taking the time and talking with them." I pointed out.
He just shook his head showing that he agreed.
On several occasions, we even brought gifts. One time we gave footballs to the patients who enjoyed watching college football on game day. During one visit my teacher and I accidently gave an Auburn Football fan a football with an Alabama logo on it. I immediately realized what we had just done. For the record and if you did not know this, in the state of Alabama, SEC Collage football is taken very seriously. Let me just say that mixing up Auburn and Alabama football is a huge deal. Upon expressing that I would quickly exchange it for the correct team football with the correct logo, the patient quickly said, "absolutely not! I love it and the two of you have made my day and lately I've had a lot of bad days." My teacher made a comment to the patient that just stopped me in my tracks.
"Miss Lisa, think of it this way." He began. "Anytime you look at that Alabama football, you can think of us and know that we love you."
My mouth hit the floor. My stomach was all stirred up with emotions because of what had just come out of his mouth. At that moment, it was by far my proudest dad moment ever. She began to cry and replied, "That is exactly why I love the football."
We were at the nursing home visiting but I had no idea that I would be in the midst of a lesson on the spot. Later that day after our visit was over and we were leaving the facility, my teacher stunned me again with what he said.
"Dad, I really enjoy coming here and visiting our friends. It really makes me feel good to make others feel good."
I literally stopped in my tracks and suddenly was not able to move. Wow! I was speechless.
In a nutshell, the lesson that I was reminded of that day was: It gives us joy and fulfillment as compassionate humans to help, listen to and love others before ourselves.