After having spent this past weekend revisiting my beloved VV, I’ve been thinking a lot about the incredible people I encountered during the months I lived there last year. There were nonnos and nonnas I cared for, mentors that became friends, and landlords that made me feel beyond welcomed. In addition, there were acquaintances I’ll never forget. One in particular was the owner of a tiny newsstand I’d pass on my morning walk to the train station. We never actually had a conversation, but every single day without fail we’d smile and wave to one another.. we’d exchange a quick, warm “Buongiorno!” that I still think about frequently. No matter the weather or how busy he was, I made sure to stop as I passed until we’d both said our hellos. It sounds so silly, but it was the perfect start to my day; without so much as knowing his name, this friendly, compassionate nonno became a source of comfort and happiness – a man I truly looked forward to seeing as I began my commute to work. Naturally, I cried my eyes out when it was time to say goodbye (slash actually introduce myself :O ).
What was it about this stranger that touched me so deeply? How was our AM ritual even initiated? Why did I crouch down to make sure he saw my wave through the awning, and why did he look for me in the first place? The answer, I’ve determined: I have no idea. Perhaps I found comfort in the fact that he so enthusiastically greeted me, a foreigner who was completely alone and who didn’t even buy his newspapers. Maybe it was his smile and the warmth it exuded. Who knows? There’s not always an explanation as to why people make us feel the way that they do. This is especially true for those who have dementia:
“A rose is still a rose, and smells as sweet, even if you don’t know what that pretty pink fragrant thing that cheers you up is called.” – Surviving Alzheimer’s
I’ve quoted that excerpt before, but I’m even more in love with it now. Scott stresses that even after names and relations are lost, your presence itself remains a source of cheer, comfort, and de-stress. Six months have passed, and to say I adore my residents at Il Sogno is an understatement. From the moment I walk in the door, before I even put down my keys, I’m kneeling beside them at breakfast. I’m greeting them one at a time, playfully eyeing what’s on their plates. I’m complimenting their bouffants (do old ladies all sleep on their faces?! WHAT IS THEIR SECRET???) and kissing their cheeks.
Despite our encounters, I would confidently say that a solid 70% of them have no idea what my name is. No matter how much we interact, I’m pretty sure they’ve got no clue why I’m there. As I was reminded of this evening, I don’t think anyone knows where I live (“You’re driving home? You don’t live here in the building?” O Dio!). What I do know, however, is that our faces light up when we see each other.. that we laugh like crazy (often at my expense).. that we confide in each other, and we embrace like we’re old friends. As eagerly as I run to them in the morning, I know in my heart that they’re waiting for me.
“People with dementia are particularly attuned to the care partner’s tone of voice, facial expression, volume, and hand gestures. Body language counts! It is as if you are speaking to someone who doesn’t speak the same language as you – he or she is looking for cues and clues from the encounter and not relying completely on your spoken words.
The person may not understand your words and may not always recognize you, but he or she still recognizes the positive intent of a smile, a handshake, or even an inviting and open posture.” – A Dignified Life
My newsstand nonno and I did not speak the same language, so we obviously didn’t rely on spoken words. We did feed off each other’s compassion. We conveyed mutual excitement and met one another with kindness. I don’t know his name, I have no clue where he lives, and I’m not sure why he was so nice to me, but I will never forget him or how he made me feel. I hope the same holds true for my loves. ❤