I’ll admit it: I love a good to-do list. When I’ve got a lot on my plate, or even when I don’t, there’s something so satisfying about crossing things off as I go.
But my latest project has been a lesson in letting go of the list.
As part of my grad school assistantship, I’m administering cognitive tests to older adults at a care facility near campus. When my adviser, Kate, told me about it, I was excited to jump in. It’d be my first real research experience. I completed the training over winter break, and met with her when the semester began.
“OK, I’ll call your contact out there and get started as soon as possible,” I said as we finished.
“Sounds great. But give yourself some time to get to know the place,” she said. “Meet the people and visit for a while.”
Just visit? I love just visiting, but that’s it? That’s what I do with Arthur and what I did with my Pop Pop. It’s what inspired me to study the aging population in the first place. But somehow I didn’t expect something so simple to be part of the research process.
So far, I’ve talked to people about their travels, families and substitute teaching days. I’ve listened to a harmonica player, and hoofed it through the halls with the fastest walker on this side of the Ohio River. I’ve served Hawaiian Punch in the dining room. I’ve watched Dr. Phil in the family room. I’ve stopped, sat still and looked around.
Not that I have a deep understanding of the community after three weeks (far from it), but Kate’s advice – to pause and get my bearings before launching into anything – was sound. Yes, I have work to do there, things to cross off the list. But more important, I have names to learn and stories to hear.
Anyone caring for a loved one meets people in the process, especially in a nursing home setting. But I think that in our busy lives, it’s easy to fall into the “get in, get out” mentality. I know it well. During my visits to Pennsylvania, I’d usually carve out an hour a day to see my grandmother, Dibi, who had Alzheimer’s disease. It wasn’t that I rushed through my time with her, but if I’m honest, I didn’t always pause, either.
My stepmom, Beth, is a star caregiver for her mom, Dorothy – and then some. She’s a true part of the community where Dorothy lives. Beth knows who likes to sit where, and which days their relatives stop by. She knows how old the aides’ grandkids are, where they live and what they do. Beth spends time there without hurrying to the next item on her schedule. She stops to listen with no agenda other than curiosity.
I’m still excited about the research part of my project, but I’m approaching it now as a new friend and a familiar face. And if I hear a harmonica playing, you can bet I’ll be there clapping along.