Those of you who know me in real life or read my blog on a regular basis know that I am a dietitian in long term care. You may not know a lot about long term care. You may think of nursing homes, certain odors, and diseases like Alzheimer’s when you think of long term care. You might have experience with a loved one living in a nursing home, you might even work in long term care yourself. Whether you know anything about long term care or not, I want to share with you something that I didn’t realize until recently about our elders who live in nursing homes, something that hit close to home for me on so many levels.
The facility where I work is moving towards a more person centered approach to care. Specifically we are working towards becoming an Eden Facility and we are being trained in the Eden Alternative. I’ve gone to three trainings related to Eden since I started working at my facility, however the training that I attended this past Thursday has really stuck with me.
The Eden Alternative seeks to change the culture of long-term care facilities, and it is a big culture change. In “Edenized” facilities, decision making starts with the residents or those closest to them. The focus is on the “home” aspect of the nursing home, rather than the day-to-day business and paperwork. The founder of the Eden Alternative, Dr. William Thomas, believes that our elders are not dying of disease, but rather loneliness, helplessness and boredom.
My blog article is titled “Companionship” because during the training I went to on Thursday, we talked about the difference between a “companion” and a “visitor”. The discussions that we had made me think of my own grandmother, who was in a nursing home the last 5 years of her life, and how lonely she must have been. Not just for the last 5 years of her life that she spent at the nursing home, but for the decades that she spent without her husband. My thoughts turned to my husband and how wonderful a companion he is to me, and how I don’t tell him that enough. Something very thought-provoking happened after that lesson, but I’ll share more on that later.
Writing this blog article sparked me to look up “companionship vs. friendship vs. romantic love”. To me (and apparently “experts” on the subject), a companion is much more than a friend, and companionship is more important than romance. A companion is someone that knows you, truly knows you, and that person (or it could be a beloved pet, even) is an essential part of you. A friend is someone that you share common interests with, you share with, you hang out with. But a companion is someone that you truly miss when they are gone because you are missing a part of you. The friendship or the romantic relationship is a bonus to that companionship. A companion is there for you in the hard times, stays true when times are tough, and celebrates with you in the good times.
So while we discussed companions versus visitors in this meeting, and thought about how many of our residents don’t have companions – just visitors, and how empty and lonely they might feel… all I could think of was my husband. How he knows me better than anyone else. How he supports me in every way that he can. How he and I have a mutual respect for each other, and we take care of each other. I thought of not having him, and how devastated I would be. I thought of how in the past I had almost lost him, almost given him up, and how ignorant I had been. I realized that the reason why he is the man that I married, and the reason why other relationships in my past were never going to come close, is that he is the best companion I have ever had.
When we took a break from our meeting, I told my coworker about the topic of discussion and how it was making me think of my husband. The phone rang, and she answered it, saying “Hi Ken!” I thought, “No way. There is no way that it could be him.” I mean, there’s a lot of Kens in the world, right? And he rarely calls me at work, he usually only calls if I have asked him to or tried calling him. I looked at the caller ID – it was my husband’s number. My heart jumped and my other coworker said “That’s weird…” because she had heard me talking about him, and how I couldn’t wait to talk to him to tell him how much I love him and how good of a companion he is to me. I picked up the phone and told him exactly what had just happened, and I told him right then and there how much I loved him and that I don’t tell him enough that he is my best companion and friend.
Many might think, well, it was just a coincidence. It wasn’t like he was calling me to say he loved me, he had something important to tell me about. But I can’t think it is just a coincidence… I have a hard time thinking things are coincidences these days. I think of it more as God works in mysterious ways…