The Meaning of Home

Jackie, who manages Thetford House describes our project as a force of nature. She thinks of Thetford House as a big old tree.  Because I started the home, I planted the seed and began to water.   The tree grew.   Jackie says that she and the staff are the roots spreading in all directions.

People ask me what to look for in a home. A home for people with dementia requires certain things: ease of movement, modification to make life simple and less confusing. What does the home look like? Is it clean? What is the staff to resident ratio? How are the staff trained? These are a few of the many important questions. There are excellent resources that can help guide you.   (http://www.ccal.org/)

For me, the most important thing about a home are the relationships that form inside it’s walls. The appearance of the house and the love that goes into tending the space is important. The building is a stage, a set, on which we live our lives. What takes place on the stage is what nourishes and gives meaning to our lives.

When I think of home I think about people who I love and who love me. I want to surround myself with things of beauty: photographs, paintings, mememtos, flowers, music, and activities that awaken my senses and remind me of the people and places I love. It matters that there is order in my environment, but not to the point where family and friends can’t kick off their shoes and just relax. I want my space to be clean.  I adore clean sheets.  I like knowing that there is good food to eat. I want space and materials to do projects that give me a sense of purpose and allow me to explore my creativity.  I want some lively entertainment and I want periods of quiet and calm.  Most importantly, I want to be with people who I care deeply about and who care deeply about me.  I want to feel safe and loved.

Relationships at Thetford are built on kindness and compassion.  It is what a home must give to its residents. It is what we must give to each other. As the owner of Thetford my relationship with the staff sets the tone for the staff’s relationship toward each other, toward the residents, and toward everyone we work or spend time with.  The residents of an assisted living home need what we all need: loving, caring relationships that are build on respect and are cultivated with kindness. This does not happen in a vacuum. It is something that we strive for. It takes commitment and practice. It requires skill and it demands self reflection.

One of my teachers, Frank Ostaseski, of the Metta Institute, has often said that we can not be fully present to others unless we are fully present to ourselves. In practical terms this means that I, as well as all of us at Thetford, must be conscious of who we are, how we feel, and what we bring to each relationship.   We must learn to be in the present with whatever is in front of us. Each relationship is unique. Each relationship is a process of discovery and understanding. We are there to serve those who come into our orbit. In order to serve we must greet people with an open mind and heart. It doesn’t matter who can remember and who cannot. It makes no difference what stage of life they are in.  We are fellow travelers, each living as best we can, each facing the uncertainty that comes with life.  Our job is to embrace people as they are and to create the space for everyone to live with as much independence and joy as possible. We are in service to each other.

One day, at the house, I started crying. I remember standing in the kitchen, trying unsuccessfully to hold back my tears.  As the tears quietly rolled down my cheeks, one of the residents, an elegant woman, with advancing dementia,  walked into the room.  When she saw me ( most likely not even knowing who I was) she came over to me.

“It will be alright,” she said, wrapping her arms around me.

A home is the relationships that grow within.

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Comments

  1. Catherine says:

    What a loss for me to have moved away from my friend.

  2. I have really enjoyed reading your blog. My stepmom, Patricia, just moved into Thetford. I am so happy my Dad found this wonderful place for her. I love her so much and miss her lively, fun, energetic personality but am comforted knowing she is there. Thank you so much for providing such a great place for her. I live in North Carolina but look forward to visiting her this summer.

    • Wanted to thank you for your comments. I am so happy your stepmom is with us. We are honored to be trusted with her care.