Hannah during a 2009 visit
"Grandma, can I go to your work? I really like dressing up in a party dress and talking with everyone."
Since Hannah was six months old, trips to Christie Gardens have been part of her life. When she learned to walk, she would toddle, and then run, down the long corridors. Equipment such as walkers and wheelchairs didn't phase her a bit. She searched for the chocolate eggs residents left for her at Easter and carved a pumpkin with them at Hallowe'en. Mostly, she talked and talked with them, and they were delighted with the conversations. School and distance have made visits more difficult, but we are planning a trip over Christmas this year. After all, she asked.
The Eden Alternative second principle states:
"An Elder-centred community commits to creating a Human Habitat where life revolves around close and continuing contact with people of all ages and abilities, as well as plants and animals. It is these relationships that provide the young and old alike with a pathway to a life worth living."1
It just makes sense, doesn't it?
Then why don't we do it?
We create sterile, "safe" environments for our elders which resemble hospitals more than homes. They may be beautifully decorated, but the essential elements mentioned here are not only missing, but in some cases, forbidden. Animals in long term care? But what about, and what if, and maybe...
And then there are children. Not every child has the advantage, like Hannah, of having a grandma who lives and breathes eldercare. Because we are a mobile society, grandparents may live far away, and many children aren't familiar or comfortable in the presence of older people. Where I work, school groups are welcome. We have an ongoing relationship with a neighbourhood school, and over the years, many different classes have come to visit on a monthly basis. Those children grow up with visits to the elders as a fun part of each month. At the moment, we have a Kindergarten class of cherubs and a Montessori school of even younger cherubs who visit, show us their work, sing and talk with the residents. Last year, a grade 1/2 class became comfortable enough to teach our residents how to make a craft.
Having children visit brightens the day of the elders, makes them smile and laugh and produces interesting conversation.
What does it do for the children? The equipment of the elderly, such as walker, wheelchairs, portable lifts and oxygen tanks, can be frightening to a small child. With regular visits, these fade in importance, and the children see only their friends. They learn to talk with people who don't hear or see well and may seem unusual to them. They discover the elders are people with wonderful stories. They are enriched.
What about plants? Even if you were never a gardener, most people love growing things. My sister hates gardening, but every year she spends a fortune at the garden centre. Why? Because she loves flowers. She buys beautiful hanging baskets and positions them around her gazebo. Her garden is full of flowering perennials, and she lies in her hammock with a book and enjoys them all summer.
Our patio garden
Beside adding oxygen to the atmosphere, plants, and especially flowering plants, nourish our souls. We have many outdoor spaces at work, including a lovely Courtyard garden, but my favourite is the patio area in our neighbourhood. Here we gather to watch the community walk by, and smile and wave to them. We eat ice cream, watch the birds and chat.
One of the plants on our patio blooms just once a year, but the brilliant, orange blooms last for about a month. Many residents go to the garden just to admire it.
I see moods lighten, anxieties lessen and days fulfilled as elders spend time in the garden. Now that it's winter in Canada, our pots of plants have come inside, and fill four tables in a lounge and dining room.
They continue to nourish, until they and we can enjoy the garden again.
And animals? That's a subject near to my heart that deserves a blog post all of its own. Stay tuned...
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