A while back, I reached out to my writing community in hopes some people would share their stories of kindness with me. I was so happy to receive this story from author Marilyn Helmer.
I feel this story is particularly relevant as we deal with the reality of living through a world-wide pandemic. Though many who are infected with Covid-19 recover, the virus can be deadly to the elderly and those who are immunocompromised. As a result, many hospitals and nursing homes are no longer allowing visitors. This restriction has been implemented to save lives, but that doesn’t mean it is void of any hardships. Patients, residents and their families must miss being able to see each other.
Marilyn’s story is a reminder of how important kindness and human interaction is for those living in nursing homes.
I asked Marilyn if there was one thing in the world she could change what would it be. Her response: I’m not sure that this can be considered an actual change, but my wish would be simply what I said at the end of my story – that people would become more aware of the blessings of simple acts of kindness, for both the receiver and the giver.
Here is Marilyn’s story, in her own words. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope soon families will once again be able to visit their loved ones.
If you would like to learn more about Marilyn and the books she writes, check out her website at http://www.marilynhelmer.com
Random Acts of Kindness
Years ago, when my mom moved into a nursing home, I visited her two or three times a week. During these visits, I got to know some of the other residents. This was a blessing, because it gave me the opportunity to see how even small, unintentional acts of kindness can bring joy to people who do not have a lot to look forward to.
The first Christmas Mom was in the nursing home, we brought her home to celebrate Christmas with the family. A few weeks ahead of time, visitors were asked to consider contributing a small gift for residents who would not be going home for Christmas due to dementia or family who lived too far away or simply weren’t interested in visiting. I asked Gina, the head nurse, for gift suggestions. To my surprise, one of the items she suggested was a stuffed toy. She said sometimes people with advanced dementia would relate to something they could cuddle.
When I was shopping a few days later, a particularly adorable teddy bear caught my eye. I hesitated, wondering if a teddy bear really would appeal to an adult. Then again, it had appealed to me, hadn’t it? I bought the teddy bear and donated it. Shortly after Christmas, Gina told me that the lady they gave it to suffered from advanced dementia and rarely communicated at all. When they gave her the teddy bear though, she put her arms around it and said, “Oh, my Christmas bear!” She still had the teddy bear when she passed away a few months later.
Another resident, Lorna, was fifty-five years old and wheelchair bound. Lorna suffered from physical and mental challenges so she couldn’t live on her own. Her family lived far away and no one ever came to see her.
When I visited, I always stopped at a nearby Tim Hortons to pick up a coffee for Mom and myself. Our routine was to take the coffee and cookies to the Social room, a bright, cheerful room that was usually empty. One day, Lorna wheeled herself in and joined us. She noticed the coffee Mom and I were drinking and asked me where I had gotten it. When I told her Tim Hortons, she said, “I love Timmies’ coffee but I can’t get there myself. The next time you come in, bring one for me too. Make it a double/double.”
I later mentioned this to one of the nurses. She rolled her eyes and said, “Lorna asks everyone who visits to bring her a coffee from Tim’s but she doesn’t have any money to pay for it. Just ignore it. She’ll forget she ever asked you.”
The next time I stopped at Tim Horton’s, I remembered Lorna’s request. It was such a simple request and I was already there, buying coffee for Mom and myself. It didn’t take any extra time or effort to order another double/double. I remember that first time I did it. Lorna was delighted when I handed her the coffee but when she took the first sip she told me that it was cold. “Take it to the kitchen and have them warm it up,” she said. She rarely said thank you but Gina later told me that Lorna often asked her, “Where is that sweet young thing who brings me the free coffee from Tim’s?” Actually I was a few years older than Lorna at the time.
My mom’s roommate, Sylvie, was a warm, cheerful person whose only issue was mobility. Her husband, who also had mobility issues, visited her as often as he could. Sylvie took my quiet mother under her wing, chatting with her and reading to her. She told me that although Mom rarely responded, she smiled a lot so Sylvie knew that she was happy. As well, Sylvie gave me a full report on how Mom was doing and what she had eaten each time I came in.
One thing my mom really enjoyed were cookies from Marks & Spencer. I made sure to keep a tin in her room to have with our coffee whenever I came in. One day Gina took me aside and told me that I should start hiding Mom’s cookies because she had caught Sylvie and her husband “feasting” on them a couple of times when he visited.
I told Gina that as long as the cookies weren’t harmful diet-wise to Sylvie or her husband, just let them enjoy them. Cookies were such a small reward for the kindness and attention Sylvie gave my mom when I wasn’t there.
Another resident, ninety-nine years old Gord, was an amazingly with-it man who looked forward to chatting with my husband when he came with me to visit Mom. Gord had all his mental faculties about him. As soon as he spotted my husband, Gord made a beeline for the Social room to chat with him. Gord had been through two wars and had fascinating stories to tell. All he needed was someone to listen.
The Random Acts of Kindness Day was created in the United States in 1995. Since then, it has grown in popularity, making us aware that kindness can be shown in many ways. The acts don’t have to be time-consuming or of great importance. Things as simple as a smile, a kind word or a cheerful greeting can brighten someone’s day
Time is one of the most valuable commodities we have. To share our time with someone who needs it doubles the value of our time. One of the greatest rewards in life is knowing that you have done something, no matter how small, to bring joy into someone else’s life. Random acts of kindness are a gift, both to the receiver and to the giver.