All Hands On Deck

You Matter, Too

In the time my wife has been in the nursing home, one glaring and tragic fact has continuously assailed my conscience, and I have decided to do something about it.
Of the approximately 20 residents in the same memory care ward as my wife, she is the ONLY one who gets daily visits. I’m there for breakfast every day, dinner at least five days each week, and very often in the middle of the night, just to check up on her. A select few of the other residents get the rare occasional visit from family or clergy, and one daughter who was visiting daily at dinnertime when Jacquelynn first arrived hasn’t been in at all in over a month now.
Most get none at all. Weeks and months (and years?) pass without a single human who doesn’t work for the facility paying them any heed whatsoever.
No one to sit and watch television with them. No one to share a meal. No one to simply show them that they matter at all. No one to just sit and hold their hand.

Not one soul to tell them “I love you”.

Everyone deserves to know that they matter, that they’re important to someone.
Thus the genesis of what I’m tentatively calling Project: You Matter, Too.
The concept here is to provide companionship and personal support to those many nursing-home-bound people who have no one else. So many have simply been “dumped” in these facilities either by uncaring or too-distant families, or simply have no one left to visit them, care about them, and to remind them that they truly matter. Everyone deserves to know that they are important to someone, that someone loves them.

This is more than having an occasional volunteer drop in on random residents and spending time with them; this is a commitment of time to spend with a particular human being who has no one else. To get to know them, have meals with them, watch television with them; simply and monumentally to befriend and care about them, and to ensure that they feel loved and appreciated. We will develop lasting relationships, touching hearts and brightening lives.
Training will be required in how to deal with dementia patients; how best to approach them and interact with them; what not to say is as important as what you do say, although each individual is as unique in their illness as they were in their health. Flexibility and intelligence are vital, but a loving and empathic heart is the most essential, invaluable tool of all. Volunteers will be paired with residents on a trial basis until they “hit it off” with someone, then they will be matched for longer-term interaction. Visits will ideally be several times weekly, and on a regular, predictable schedule as routine can be very important to some dementia and Alzheimer’s sufferers.
This will not require medical training, as volunteers will not accompany residents outside the environment of the facility but will rather visit them in their familiar surroundings, providing the closest thing many such people get to family. Rather than attempting to remind them of better days behind, we will be making their todays brighter and more meaningful.
We will be reminding them that they matter, too.

Everyone matters.

This is a call for help. I need the input of business people, of people familiar with non-profits and start-ups. I need the advice of health care professionals, especially those with experience in geriatrics and dementia. I desperately need legal advice. And I can’t pay a cent.
I need open hearts willing to share their expertise and experience to help these souls who have been set aside or forgotten by whatever family they may have. No one deserves to be put on a shelf and left behind.

Thank you in advance,

Matthew Jarrett

Date Night

The unit nurse knew we were going out, so she had prepared Jacquelynn with a nice top and (HUGE HELP) a leg bag for her catheter rather than making us go out with a big bag of urine hanging off the back of her wheelchair.

Jacquelynn had sort-of-forgotten but was very excited as soon as I reminded her what we were doing. She’s gotten pretty good at cooperating and helping with the wheelchair-to-car (and back) transitions and managed it smiling, still excited about the evening.
After some no-short-term-recall-related “bickering” about where to go, I drove us to the local Panera Bread, where she gleefully let me wheel her up to a table and sat smiling while I ordered dinner.
The simple “artisan” grilled cheese and chips made Jacquelynn SO happy as she absolutely savored every bite I fed her while she guzzled her way through 2 refills of peach-mango tea. She even enjoyed a sample of my tuna salad enough to smile broadly yet again.
We chatted as we ate, taking our time like lovers do on a date. But she was chilled in the heavy air conditioning of the restaurant and I hadn’t brought her wrap, so I bussed our table carefully and we made our way out. Unlike on the way in, someone actually jumped up to help with the door as I clumsily maneuvered her wheelchair backwards one-handed while trying to hold the doors myself. Thank you, kind lady.

Next stop, after yet another flawless chair-to-car move, was Cincinnati icon Graeter’s Ice Cream. With no wheelchair ramp at the front of the store, (I think there may be one toward the rear, but didn’t look), getting in was a bit more difficult, but it’s an aluminum chair and she weighs 90lbs, so pulling her up over the curb is not the greatest of burdens. Again, she was chilly in the shop, but we loitered over a couple dips of mint chocolate chip in a shared bowl. She grinned and giggled at a baby at a nearby table and lovingly savored her dessert. Leaving, we decided it was still pretty early, so we slid across the street and into a handicapped parking spot (no, I don’t have a placard yet, but the lot was almost empty and I was loading her into and out of a wheelchair) in front of Homegoods/Marshalls. Riding the elevator up and spending 30 minutes or so touring the store was a great capper to a truly fun evening. Jacquelynn was tiring and ready to return (but still cheery!), so we headed back.

Returning her to the unit and saying goodbye was typically difficult, as her mood tends to deteriorate as I leave, but she did thank me and tell me she loved me as she was spiraling down for the evening. But I had left the dog home alone for long enough, and I had to get home to let him out for a spell before bedtime.

All-in-all, a very successful and wonderful evening out together. Much to my surprise, she remarked on it at breakfast the next morning, too. She was still jubilant and smiling about the good time we had together as she ate, although most of the details had slipped away. It must have truly made an impact on her as it has been many months since she recalled anything pleasant from a previous day.

I would see precisely the same phenomenon two days later, when a late-afternoon appointment with our regular physician led to dinner at the new BBQ joint across the street from her office. The food was outstanding, and Jacquelynn asked for ice cream again afterward, so we stopped by Graeter’s again (they do have a ramp at the back entrance!) on the way back to share a bowl of Black Raspberry Chip. A less formal and more impromptu date night for sure, but again the next morning she was savoring the memories before they disappeared completely, even licking her lips as we discussed making the pulled pork and mac-and-cheese a semi-regular event. That’ll be quite easy to do, as they’re on my way to the nursing home; I’ll just preorder it and pick it up on the way in once every other week or so.

I feel that these dates are a second chance of sorts. We don’t have unlimited time before us like we did twenty years ago, but I can work to maximize what we do have and spend as much time as I can re-bonding with her and emphasizing the love, in ways I couldn’t while she was still at home. With less of a spectre of her hurting herself or me hanging over every moment, and others filling all the caregiver roles which so antagonize her, I can (as the nurse at the hospital told me almost two months ago) finally be the husband again, and my lovely wife seems eager to allow me to be.

For that, I am eternally grateful.