Honoring the United Church Homes mission to transform Aging by building a culture of community, wholeness and peace has challenged me to reflect upon our residents’ diverse understanding of what constitutes the meaning of wholeness within their lives. Some people may identify the role of family and friends, while others find a deeper meaning in their faith. Others listen or participate in music, spend time with their beloved pets or appreciate various forms of the arts.
Role of Pets
Meeting with residents and their families, I have become increasingly aware of the role of pets in creating a personal sense of wholeness. Last week in conversation with a resident, I asked what brought her great joy. She quickly responded her children, grandchildren and her beloved dog. She continued by celebrating the supportive nature of her loved ones. Her pet’s companionship, joyful nature and constant presence brought her great comfort, especially living alone.
A Next Avenue article says: “Dogs are especially important for the 50 and over group. They keep people connected to their communities and keep them on the move, a vital part of staying healthy into the later years.”
Creating Opportunities for Sharing
Our independent and assisted living building, Parkvue Place, allows residents to care for their pets. A community walking path provides a great opportunity to exercise, walk a dog or appreciate nature. Recently, an apartment door sign reminded visitors to enter carefully to avoid letting out the cat.
Our healthcare center welcomes pet visitors on a leash. These visits offer our residents great comfort and joy. Our receptionist, Connie, brings her dog, Emma, to work a few times a week to welcome our guests. Emma is especially attracted to residents’ family members who provide her with special treats. Emma has even begun making visits to our dog-loving residents in the Follett Court memory care neighborhood.
The Grief of Loss
Just as pets bring great joy, people may also suffer a deep grief when pets die. Two weeks ago, I visited a new resident in our skilled care neighborhood, a bright-eyed elderly woman. She announced how glad she was to be at Parkvue, and how her deep faith had carried her through a very difficult, extended hospital stay. She shared a heartfelt lament as both her husband and dog had also died within the past year. They had been a beloved part of her life. I listened to her story, affirming her deeply held sorrow. We joined in prayer, lifting up her blessings and grief while sharing a deep hope for improved health. Given her feisty nature, I sensed a faithful resilience within her soul as she looked toward brighter days.
In ministry with older adults, I continue to enhance my communication skills to promote deeper listening to broaden areas of conversation. Creating that safe space may allow others to comfortably share both joyous and challenging aspects of their lives. Identifying specific diverse interests has the potential to enhance one’s own understanding of wholeness and ultimately allow a greater sense of peace to flow throughout other aspects of life.