Beyond My Years: Their Stories

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”

– Lois Lowry, The Giver

March 14th, 2018 (2 more days left at Sunrise)

In the past couple of days, I have found my place in the community of Sunrise. I have been looking and listening to the life that resides here. From 70-years-old to 90-years-old, each resident is treated like an individual. I have seen and experienced the patience needed to work with some of the residents as dementia, Alzheimer’s, memory loss, and other mental or health issues coincide with their lives and daily movements of the day.

My experience at Sunrise has become more personal as I have interviewed eight residents so far. My plan is to interview two more residents as the week comes to a close. Each interview can last from 15 minutes to 50 minutes, it all depends on the person I speak with and their openness and ability to recall their personal life. I use a set of 12 questions to encourage the stories and guide the conversation along. Continue reading “Beyond My Years: Their Stories”

Beyond My Years: Porch Lights, Page Turns and Pointers

 

“There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she [or they] has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.”

– Deepak Chopra

March 6th, 2018 (Three days into my project!)

Foreword: In the post, I reflect on the past three days and end with what my next steps are. I know this post is super long, my apologies, I have made a video (7 mins) recapping the specifics of what took place on Friday, Monday, and Tuesday. If you’re interested in watching, that is below. Thank you for reading and watching!

 

I have been contemplating what to say about my experience so far at Sunrise Senior Living. The biggest struggle when it comes to picking out what to say is how much silence sat with me and many of the residents during the first few days at Sunrise. Some of the silence that I have sat with is that of processing the community and its normal flow of the day but, in full honesty, much of the time has been sharing the silence, sadness, and helplessness of some of the members.

Many of the residents at Sunrise have dementia, Alzheimer’s, memory loss or just aren’t fully present in conversation or thought. There are many members of the community I have talked with who don’t remember too much about their life or some simply do not care to have their personal life recorded. However, there are residents who recognize their memory loss or the purpose of my project and have become interested in speaking about their past.

I arrived on Friday, March 2nd at 10:15 am to a warm welcome in the Bistro, the main dining area for the residents. There, I introduced my project to a handful of residents who decided to show up to the designated activity time arranged by Jaimie, the activities coordinator I am working with. During this time I talked about myself and where I fit into the Delco area which surprisingly sparked conversation from some of the residents.

Friday was not full of exciting stories or photoshoots as I had the expectation of occurring. Although, I did expect and succeed to use Friday as a time for the community to get to know my project and myself. This was also a time for myself to take in and learn more about the residents daily life at Sunrise.

Throughout my first day, I was introduced to the reality of doing a project in a Senior care facility. As I was in conversation with one of the residents who has been at Sunrise for 4 months, she described some of the members as, when “the porch light is on but nobodies home.” It did not surprise me to hear this as I looked around to some of the residents staring off somewhere or sleeping. Hearing this from the residents and the experiences I have had so far has humbled my thoughts and strengthened the empathy I have towards senior citizens and their journey of getting older.

On Monday, March 5th, the reality of where I am and the environment I am working in continued to make itself present. My day started out with seeing an “In Memory” photo of a resident that had passed away over the weekend, one that I had spoken with on Friday. I paused when I saw this and it brought to mind the reality of the environment my project is taking place in but the importance of archiving the stories untold and providing a space just for someone to be heard.

I talked to many residents on Monday but much of our conversations were one-sided. I sat with an adorable woman in a common space where 4 other members were sleeping. She and I talked about the books and plates that sat on the shelf in front of us. I then asked if she cared to move and she said: “If you care to.” I pushed her wheelchair over to the Bistro and we sat down with a Martha Stewart magazine looking at the color that painted the pages of the magazine as we both turned each page to pass the time.

So far I would describe my presence as being a social floater; someone who sits next to people who seem to be doing nothing and attempting to engage in conversation. I have enjoyed the silence and page turning of magazines but sometimes I felt like time was going by like one of the flat escalators at the airport you stand on, only it is neverending. I got to the end though and have already taken in and am amazed by the efforts and function of this community.

There are so many parts and people that keep the community turning. The staff and residents support each other with friendly greeting and jokes. Everyone is so welcoming and bright! Over the past three days, I have received many pointers on who to speak with and how to interact with some of the residents who have memory loss or are more quiet.

As I continue the rest of my days at Sunrise, I will be setting up sessions and will be put on the activity list so the residents are given a more direct opportunity and a reminder that I am here to archive their stories and have their photographs taken. I will also be given a list of names to set up interviews with. While I was a little discouraged in the beginning by the conversations and interactions I was having I am now hopeful that I can get a final project completed for the community at Sunrise.

 

Beyond My Years: A Journey into the Lives of Others

“Comfort comes from knowing that people have made the same journey. And solace comes from understanding how others have learned to sing again.”

– H Steiner Rice

February 28th, 2018 | (Two days before my project begins!)

Hello! My name is Lilian Fernandez, but everyone calls me Lili. I have been at Westtown since Kindergarten and am very excited to graduate with the Class of 2018 this Spring! For my Senior Project, I am staying close to home but not to comfort. I wanted to incorporate my passion for photography with my interest in uncovering the stories and wisdom of those who are older than me. I will be planting myself at Sunrise Senior Living of Granite Run, a senior living community in Media, PA, to do just that.

As a member of the Delaware County area, I have not fully immersed myself in this community, one that I have been apart of for my entire life. I am interested and want to give back to a community that has been part of my home by establishing relationships with individuals in the community at Sunrise Senior Living. I also hope to create relationships that I can return to in the future as well as leave the community with a physical representation of the stories and some of the members of their community. I am planning on using Blurb.com to create a photo/story book to present to the community after my time there. Throughout my posts, I will share quotes, photographs, and the experiences I have throughout my two weeks at the Sunrise community and the process of constructing a book.

During these weeks I will work purely off of my passions and interests. I enjoy photography and conversing with others and this project involves both aspects of communication and media. I will need to keep myself accountable for deadlines, timeliness, and challenges that may occur. Ultimately I hope to learn how to account for and establish my own role within a set schedule and uphold the promise of completion of this project.

Being from a younger generation, one of the interests that influenced this project is the possibilities of learning from the lives, journeys, and struggles of those older than me. My passion for archiving the stories of older generations has also stemmed from my hesitancy and discomfort to reach out and ask about my grandparents’ and great-grandmothers’ lives.

What drove me to create a project like this is the relationship I had with my great grandmothers’ and the stories that have been shared with me, but also the stories and experiences I was too young to know to ask about. I feel that I did not reach out enough to ask about their experiences, memories, or stories they find most prominent in their lives. Senior Projects provided the perfect format to educate and open myself up to others stories and to share the lives and interests of the members of the senior living community.

From experience, I have come to understand how providing space within a community can allow for unity and I hope that my project can do just that. I want to be a person the residents can be comfortable with sharing their stories and interests. And most importantly, I want to provide a space for many of those who are forgotten by their family members or have no one left to hear them and what makes them the person they are today.

So if you are interested in hearing the stories of others or my artistic process of portrait photography I hope you join me and some of the members of Sunrise Senior Living of Granite Run in this journey!

Lilian Fernandez