From time to time, throughout are lives, we are challenged to bear more than we might have expected. We learn from these experiences that it is through accepting life’s challenges that we gain unforeseen rewards. These returns may come in the form of the knowledge of a job well done, joyful experiences and memories, gainful learning, compassion, understanding, self-confidence and even tenacity. And yet we so often choose to avoid the most challenging paths.
Why? Maybe we need to pause and reflect on our lives, analyze our past challenges and value our life lessons. Might this reflection influence our future choices for our day-to-day lives? It is also apparent that through life’s training ground via circumstances, good and bad, that we are shaped for an inevitable future purpose.
Christine Zeitler, director of resident life at Blossom, is a genuinely caring person and a wonderful example of someone who has embraced and grown from her life’s challenges. She began her career as a nurse’s assistant noticing early she had a connection with and compassion for Alzheimer’s patients. Following the birth of their first daughter, Christine chose to work nights to balance the challenges of family and career, “I felt drawn to many of the residents,” she remembered. “I have always had a strong sense of faith, and I believe God pulls you in specific directions; even though you may not recognize it at the time. I was fascinated by the people I met and the stories that they would share.”
A most impactful experience for Christine was caring for a lady who once worked as a hospital liaison for families. She was charged with helping them come to terms with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis and would connect them with applicable programs. “Later, this lady was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,” she said. “I watched her suffer with delusions. She would tell herself “it was a delusion,” but she would ask me to sit with her through it.” That was 22 years ago. “I remember sitting and talking with her in the middle of the night when she couldn’t sleep, like it was yesterday.”
Christine worked as caregiver for several years. As her family grew and required more of her time, especially on weekends, she was provided with an opportunity to take on clerical work. It was at that time, coincidently, she and her husband, Derek, observed some changes occurring with her father-in-law. “I noticed some symptoms of sun downing,” she said. Sun downing is a common condition where Alzheimer’s patients experience confusion and agitation in the late afternoon and evening. Derek’s family had a history of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Christine, Derek and their two children moved into the family home to care for her father-in-law. They knew he would be most comfortable in his own home. Shortly thereafter, they were blessed with another baby. “It was challenging, but so rewarding,” she recalled. “Papa went everywhere with us, to appointments, to the grocery store and on every errand.” Her father-in-law was limited in his communication and comprehension. “But we knew that he knew, we were his people. It was the little things,” continued Christine. Like covering the corner of the table when their youngest was learning to walk. His eyes would light up at a school program when his grandchildren entered. For six years, the three generations lived under the roof of the family home.
Eventually, there came a time when it was clear he needed around-the-clock supervision. The family, including Derek’s sister, recognized their father needed another level of care and began the search. They looked for the ideal location in proximity to all family members, but found nothing suitable. “Because of my background, I knew what felt right and what didn’t,” said Christine. It was their trusted physician who recommended the Ohman facilities. “When we visited Blossom, it was on a Sunday and they were having a picnic. In spite of the activity, no one looked stressed and the atmosphere was so pleasant.” They all agreed; this was the place!
Once again, Christine found herself in a health-care setting. This time as support for a family member. Learning of her caregiving history, the staff at Blossom suggested she become part of the team. She refused. She was content to visit as a family member, but enjoyed all of the residents, too. One year later, she became a part-time activities assistant.
Today, Christine is director of resident life at Blossom. “Papa” spent the last two years of his life at Blossom. Now, Christine’s father receives care at Blossom. Christine thoroughly enjoys and appreciates each resident. She listens to them and encourages them to share their life stories, and hopes that all residents and families will do the same, so they too can appreciate each other’s life contributions.
We so often choose to avoid the most challenging paths, but as Christine’s story teaches us, we ought to embrace the challenges and appreciate how they shape us, as well as enhancing the lives of others around us.