Eric arrives for his lunch shift at the assisted-living center looking disheveled, as always. He’s probably in his mid-20s, wearing wrinkled blue scrubs over a t-shirt. His dark hair is short but uncombed. Tattoos cover both arms. The residents love him.
There’s a quote usually attributed to Maya Angelou, although she likely got it from the inspirational writings of Carl Buehner:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
That’s the secret to Eric: the way he makes everyone feel.
With a room full of hungry people to tend to, Eric gets started. His first assigned table is next to the piano, where four women wait silently. He greets them like he’s happy to be at their service.
“What can I get you to drink today?”
Without hesitation, Dot orders a double vodka and orange juice, her standard answer. “I really wish I could get that for you,” Eric responds, with regret that sounds genuine. “How about just the orange juice?”
Each woman gets Eric’s full attention as she requests a beverage, sometimes two or three. Because dehydration can be a big problem among the elderly, beverages are never limited. I’d like cranberry juice in a cup, and a glass of half ginger ale and half iced tea—lots of ice—without a straw. And also some water.
He takes this in stride, ever accommodating. “I’ll go get your drinks and be right back to take your lunch orders.”
He’s true to his word. As he carefully sets the cups and glasses in front of each woman, he calls her by name and recites the contents down to the last detail. “No straw, right Adele?”
Now it’s time for the big decision: what to eat. Again, Eric focuses on each of the four women in turn, asking first if she’d like him to fasten her clothing protector, basically an oversized bib. Not a requirement, just an offer. The food selection process can be s-l-o-w, but he’s patient as she ponders her choices. He helps navigate the day’s printed menu. Cottage cheese plate? Beef stroganoff? Chicken/broccoli casserole? If she can’t decide between the fish fingers and the turkey in gravy, Eric might gently suggest considering a half-order of each. But he leaves her in control, her dignity intact.
Eric has the advantage of a man’s lower voice, which cuts through hearing loss. He doesn’t have to shout to be heard. And he avoids forced levity, that unnaturally chipper tone people often use when talking to children or the elderly.
There are other lunch servers in the room, but it’s Eric I watch. With each interaction, he makes the residents’ lives a bit better, the atmosphere a little warmer. Small kindnesses matter.
Copyright © 2016 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.