The ins and outs of a facility friendship

It was two years before a resident my age was admitted to my first nursing home. At that time I was usually busy on my computer doing a part-time facility job. When Ann moved into the room next door, I noticed that she was quiet and stayed in most of the time.

I heard Ann was paralyzed on one side from a stroke many years before. Over the years it became increasingly difficult for her to live in her apartment. So at 51, following a period of ill health, she decided to move to a nursing home. Even though she could do most of her own care, she did not want to become a burden on her children.

After a year or so the aides came to me because they were concerned about Ann. She was lonely and quite dependent on them. They picked up fast food for her and she stayed with them because they lifted her mood. The aides felt Ann needed someone inside the facility she could depend on, and they asked me if I would befriend her. I was leery because Ann was so private. But when her depression worsened and her appetite decreased, they urged me to help her. I decided to roll into her room, say hello, and see what happened.

Even though I had to push at first, Ann seemed to enjoy spending time with me, although she did admit that we had little in common except our age. Before her stroke she was a nurse aide, and I could tell she was not thrilled with living in a facility and she especially hated asking for help.

I tried to devote part of each day to Ann. But some days my part-time job made that difficult. Sometimes she would come near my room to see if I was busy. She did not want to interrupt, but when I saw her frowning face I knew she was lonely or bored. That was enough for me to leave my computer and find something we could do together. In good weather we sat outside in the sun. Each day we checked the activities calendar to see if we wanted to participate, and most Fridays we were at social hour. When there was nothing else going on, we sat at one of the large, front windows and talked.

Ann helped me by taking messages to activities and other staff, or getting me an aide. When my computer locked up, she stood and restarted it. At times when we were having a coffee/tea treat, she would feed me. She was not supposed to but it made our “treat time” more enjoyable.

We eventually started to depend on each other. When either of us felt ill and stayed in bed for the day, the other checked to see how things were going. I think we both felt better knowing that someone other than staff cared about us. I began encouraging Ann to build up her strength because I thought she could live on her own. She felt that was impossible.

After September 11, 2001, she was very afraid. We sat outside and talked about possible attacks on the United States. I told her to try to let go of her fear. A month later her family offered to drive her to see her sisters in another state. After much encouragement from me, she agreed. Afterward, Ann was so pleased she had gone, she began visiting her son's home on holidays. I was very proud of her and knew that she had overcome a huge barrier.

Several months later she said she was moving to a senior citizens apartment complex 20 minutes away. I was not surprised but I knew that I would miss her company.

Ann had lived in the nursing home for more than five years. We all missed seeing her in the hallways. I tried to keep up our friendship by phoning her, but she was not very talkative and things did not seem to be the same. I thought I would visit Ann but I never had the time.

Five years later Ann returned to the nursing home. Her osteoporosis had caused several spinal fractures and she was in a great deal of pain. After giving her some time to settle in, I visited and said if she wanted my company just to come and get me. Ann was tentative and I knew it would take her awhile to get used to nursing home life again. We did spend time together but not to the degree we did before. I think we both knew we had to have other residents in our lives.

Since I moved 70 miles away last fall, I have had little contact with her. I have called a couple of times but she was, again, not very talkative. Friends tell me she is doing all right and has other residents that she spends time with. I hope to be able to visit her and others there this summer.

My relationship with Ann taught me that situational friendships occur because of where we are in life. These friendships comfort us, help us to get involved, and allow us to move forward.

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