Coach’s Challenge for 9-29-13 “The Importance of Belonging”

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge is about our need for friendship and belonging.

About a month ago, my 93-year-old mother-in-law became quite ill. After a long life of hard work and joyful activity, the matriarch of our family was now fading fast. As we stood by her bedside, saw her frail body and listened to her labored breathing, we struggled with the thoughts and emotions that inevitably come when you lose someone you love.

She had stopped eating. At each mealtime, we all tried to encourage her to take a few bites from the tray of food in front of her, but she would not. As her weight continued to drop, her face began to look more and more skeletal, and it seemed that with each passing day, the specter of death drew closer.

As this was happening, more and more people came to visit her. She lives in an apartment on the first floor of an assisted living center near the front entrance. At mealtimes, when the residents of the center make their way slowly with the aid of canes, walkers and scooters to the dining room, they have to pass my mother-in-law’s room and often stop in to see her on their way. When she became ill, the number of outside visitors who came to see my mother-in-law also increased. Everyone in the family stepped up their visits; we wanted to make sure someone was visiting her every day. And we engaged hospice and home nursing care for her as well.

At first, I wasn’t sure if all this traffic was good for her. What if someone had a cold — or worse? If she caught any type of virus at this point, it would be her end. What if she just needed peace and quiet? All this activity could take too much energy from her and not allow her to heal.

As the days wore on and we were all preparing for her demise, she began to get a little bit better. Slowly, she began eating again and gained back some of her strength. She went from napping most days to sitting up in bed chatting with visitors. We were all surprised by this change and wondered what precipitated it. In trying to get more information from her about the change in her behavior, we asked asked why she had stopped eating, her reply was, “I wasn’t hungry,” with her usual frankness. And now, apparently, her appetite was back.

Sitting with her one day at lunchtime, I watched as the steady stream of visitors came to see her on their way to lunch. It’s an entertaining bunch of old-timers. There is the 94-year-old ex-Marine who still wears his “Semper Fidelis” cap and tells WWII stories; the woman who wears purple and calls Mom “Sweetie,” which I don’t think Mom particularly likes but smiles when she says it anyway; the friendly woman who delivers stuffed animals to the very ill residents so that they always have a smiling stuffed rabbit or puppy propped up in the chair next to their bed for company; the couple who live just down the hall who are always holding hands; and the 98-year-old fellow who delivers my mother-in-law’s newspaper to her each day with a smile and sits by her bed to discuss the day’s headlines. I realized that all of these people who bring their love and friendship to her are keeping her alive. They help her feel like she belongs there with their loving kindness and attention. They give her a reason to continue to be a part of the community.

It’s so important for all of us to feel like we belong. Whether it’s to our family, group of friends or work team members, our sense of belonging is essential to our well-being. Our need for connection and contribution is part of our genetic makeup and without these things, we become more and more separate from humanity and ourselves.

This week, allow yourself to experience the joy of being connected to those you are closest to. Revel in the moments of love and affection you have with your family. Appreciate the time you spend with your teammates and what you discover about each other. Allow yourself to fully embrace the feelings of trust and commitment that come from working day in and day out with the same people. And remember how together you all make up a much bigger and better world.

As my mother-in-law started to feel better, she began to ask her caregivers to leave her front door open so that she could see the other residents walk past her door. Now, Mom’s door is open every day. As the other residents pass by, they wave and yell out, “Hi Jean, how ya doin’ today?” She always gives them a big smile and waves back with the comment, “Well, I’m still here!”

Have a good week!

Kathleen

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