Staff and residents often share close bonds

Nineteen-year-old Melissa Hillman is sitting behind the desk at the seniors’ home, The Lodge at Valley Ridge, talking about one of her favorite residents, who has just passed away from stomach cancer. She smiles as she talks about the woman she calls “my grandma.”

“She was always nice, but there were some times that I could just be like, ‘You’re sad,’” she says. “And I almost liked that vulnerability to her and I feel like I almost saw a lot of myself in her, because she was an optimist, but you could still see [moments] of her being sad and real. She was really down to earth – that’s what I liked about her.”

Hillman has been on the staff at The Lodge at Valley Ridge since the summer before she began 10th grade. Over the years, she has developed a close bond with many of the seniors that goes beyond that of a traditional staff-patron relationship. She says that many of the seniors have expressed a deep gratitude for the staff members, who become a sort of pseudo-family for them.

Patty McEathron, leasing manager at Fountains of Mission Retirement Residence in the southwest, says that many of the seniors don’t have any family around.

“I’m surprised at how many [seniors] don’t have any family here in Alberta,” she says. “Some of them don’t have any family in the country. A number of women had never married, so they don’t have kids, grandkids, things like that.”

McEathron says that younger employees can fill the void for seniors missing family.

“I think it’s a need for them,” she says. “They need someone they can talk to, rely on, ask questions about. It’s a need and it’s a want and it’s a feel- good thing. And they like to be around young people; all seniors do.”

As the leasing manager, McEathron is the first person to meet residents when they begin the process of moving into the residence. She’s talked to them and their families. She’s seen their finances. She’s been there as they struggled with having to give up their homes. She’s established relationships with them, and she says that many of them have given her mementos when they left the residence.Leasing manager Patty McEathron (right) shares a laugh with senior Joy Booker at the Fountains of Mission Retirement Residence. Seniors at these residences often share a close bond with the employees.
Photo by: Danielle Semrau

She pulls out a set of keys that has a rectangular white and brown keychain. “This lady here was just the cutest thing,” she says, showing off the trinket. “She gave me this; she would always rub it. I don’t know why, it’s just bone. She wasn’t feeling very well one day and she says: ‘You know, I don’t think I’m going to be around much longer. I want you to have this. You’ll have me with you all the time.’”

Another resident that McEathron helped move into the residence is Ellen Brown. Brown has lived at the Fountains of Mission Retirement Residence for eight years now. She leans in close to talk, her voice quiet and gentle.

“A lot of the staff are younger and it keeps you away from this, ‘I got arthritis, I got a pain, I got an ache,’ and all that kind of stuff,” she says. “We’ve all got that. Just being with the younger staff, it keeps you young.

“We are more [susceptible] to change now. It’s hard as you get older —– you can’t teach an old dog new tricks —– but I find they can help us to understand some things that we’re having difficulty understanding as to how things are changing and lifestyles and that sort of thing,” she says.

Whether it’s helping her when she’s made a blunder with the television, or helping her to unpack, Joy Booker, another resident at Fountains of Mission Retirement Residence, says that the staff is always willing to lend a hand. She’s lived at Fountains of Mission Retirement Residence this residence for the past two years, and has nothing but good things to say about the staff.

“They’re always very friendly. Everyone’s like, ‘Good morning,’ including the maintenance man and the lady at the reception desk. It’s always that way,” Booker says.

These two seniors’ homes are small communities, where everyone knows one another. Both homes offer a variety of activities everyday – bingo, jewelry making, live entertainment – and throw larger functions where everyone gets involved. The Fountains of Mission Retirement Residence recently held a mock royal wedding and everyone, including the maintenance man, participated. As Brown says, you do not have to be lonely at these residences.

Brown says that some residents are lonely, but that the staff makes all the effort they can to make sure that there are things to do to get people to meet one another.

“I don’t understand them,” she says, “because I feel there’s so many things going, but they don’t want to participate. I don’t know what you can do about that. We try to get them involved in things, but its not easy. But it’s a choice they have to make.”

dsemrau@cjournal.ca