Nursing Homes – A Place to Die or a Place to Live?

So, my family of 9 (not counting the 3 that are grown) has been spending some time lately at Deer Creek of Wimberley Skilled Nursing Facility.  How we wound up there is a story 18 years in the making.

The short version is I never JUST wanted a large family.  I wanted a large family with the purpose of being the hands and feet of Christ.  I knew if God blessed us with a houseful of kids, it would come with a call to serve Him as a unit.

Can I tell you there is no greater feeling than working alongside your spouse and children towards a common goal?  We got a taste of this helping a family clean up after the devastating Memorial Day flood that hit Wimberley a few years back.  We’ve been able to serve together at our last church on work days.  What a joy to see my children spread out all over the church property doing various tasks, working together and with others!

This life I live tugs me in so many directions with a desperate feeling so often of not being able to accomplish all that I need to accomplish; yet during these times of working together with my family, I am completely at peace that I am doing exactly what the Lord would have me do in this moment.

I’ve brought the kids to Deer Creek a few times to visit members of our church and a friend they had made when they visited with their Sunday school.  Our first connections.  I never minded taking them, but it never really tugged at my heart.  To me, a place like Deer Creek was a place you go to die.  I don’t think that way any more.

A few months ago, we lost a friend who had reached out to one of my teenage daughters.  Over time, they developed a very special friendship.  I don’t think Tommie would mind me sharing her name, so for my Wimberley friends who read this, you know who I am talking about.  Tommie was losing her battle against cancer, and when it became evident that she needed skilled nursing care, she was brought to Deer Creek.  The morning after she was admitted, we went to visit Tommie, and the Deer Creek Activities Director, Courtney, visited with Tommie while we were there.  The questions Courtney asked and the enthusiasm and respect she radiated surprised me.  Her focus was not on helping our sweet friend die; it was, for the time Tommie had left, on helping her live.  And she didn’t just reach out to Tommie, she encouraged Tommie’s husband’s participation as well.   Our second connection.

As an overwhelmed, silence-seeking introvert, it is rare for me to want to participate in anything that’s not mandatory, but something in my spirit leaped forward wanting, needing to be a part of this.  After that first visit, I immediately went to the grocery store and I bumped into a lady I had seen at Deer Creek who was obviously management of some kind.  I introduced myself and told this dear lady, MJ, how touched I was by the way Deer Creek was treating my friend.  I told her I’d like to get my family involved, and she was so kind and welcoming.  Our third connection.

Our friend passed away so our visits ceased, but I knew I wanted to go back.

About this time, I read the story of Three Wishes for Ruby’s Residents https://www.gofundme.com/three-wishes-for-ruby039s-residents.  I’ll have to blog about that beauty later, but it struck a cord in me.  What grabbed me was how little insignificant acts from one person could have an enormous impact on another.

With all these thoughts swirling in my head, the time was ripe to come across a Facebook post reminding the community that Deer Creek was looking for volunteers.  What I loved about the post and what I continue to love about the Activities Director, is that while they do have some specific needs for volunteers, they are open to any activity that would bring the community into the doors of Deer Creek.  Their agenda is not just about getting their job done, it’s about bringing life through the doors of Deer Creek.

So for a couple months now, 7 of my kiddos and I go to Deer Creek to help with Bingo on Fridays.  The coolest thing ever is that every single one of those kiddos, from age 3 to 17, LOVE going.  My kids are great, but it is pretty unusual to have an activity that they all agree on.

Before we started visiting regularly, I felt sorry for people that lived in places like Deer Creek.  Away from their families, cared for by strangers, just killing time in their final years.

I see things differently now.  The younger ones, yeah, they still get to me – surely they don’t belong here, but I often wonder about all of them, if not for Deer Creek, where would they be?  It is a noble but very difficult thing to take care of an aging or compromised relative.  It takes time, patience, devotion, money.  How many of these people would at best be left on a couch watching TV all day, deprived of any socialization, nutrition, doctors care, etc.?  And not because of a lack of love, but just because we struggle so just to take care of ourselves; how much is left over to take care of another?  And then there are those few who perhaps have been abandoned – those who have no home to go to, no family to lean on?  Where would they be?  Who would comfort them, who would care for them?

Today, instead of feeling like I owe these sweet folks an apology that our society has “dumped” them, I see them and am thankful that somehow they found their way to Deer Creek.  I have learned that many of them are happy at Deer Creek, and their families are still involved in their life and care.  I am thankful for people like MJ and Courtney and the therapists and nurses that bring healing and wholeness if not to the bodies, to the hearts of these precious people.  And I am so thankful for the residents and employees of Deer Creek that have invited us into their home and have loved on us so well.

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