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"You know me!"

Columnist Bill Herr taught high school mathematics and science for 32 years before serving as a volunteer and then as a staff chaplain at two nursing homes.

By Bill Herr

I always said there are four things that determine who we are and who we are becoming. They are the people we’ve known and loved, the experiences we have had, the suffering we have known, and the spiritual growth that is taking place in us. As chaplain I was always responsible for the last one, helping with worship services, leading Bible studies and visiting with residents and praying for them. 

When a resident died, we would conduct a special memorial service for that person, inviting staff, family members, and residents to attend. I would share about the resident’s life and invite anyone attending the service to share. These services were special and brought closure to those that attended. Our residents became a second family to us and we grieved their loss.

One of my goals was to always tell staff and visitors all I knew about each resident after they came to live at the nursing home. I respected the rules of HIPPA not to tell details about the health of our residents. I only told the good things that were connected to their past. I found that out by visiting with residents and their family members. Sharing about them helped the residents to feel valued, even though they were retired from active lives. 

One lady had the beginnings of dementia and it bothered her that she knew it and couldn’t express herself as she wanted. She was friendly and had led a very successful life. I often repeated to her what she had done and that she was a great person. We became friends and if she saw me she would hustle to where I was and we would visit. One day she was evidently having a bad day and a nurse was leading her by the hand back to her room. They passed by where I was sitting in the hall. She was crying. When they were close I said her name and said hi to her. She stopped, took my hand in hers and said, “You know me!”  I always considered that one of the greatest compliments I ever received. 

It is so important for residents in nursing homes to be reminded of the good things that had been in the fabric of their lives. I was always appreciative of visitors that would tell staff nice things about our residents. 

“A friend knows the song in my heart and sings it to me when my memory fails.”