In this second installment of our 5-part series viewing life during COVID-19 through the eyes of people it affects in senior living, we turn to the perspective of one of our beloved caregivers, Mary Ahlberg. Mary is the kind of person that when you meet her, you know she is special. As a former Montessori teacher for children 9 months to 4 years of age, she has the keen ability to intuitively hone in on people’s needs. This particular skillset has served her very well as a caregiver focused on life enrichment at our Issaquah Memory Care community. With a zeal for trying new things, Mary engages dynamically and openly with everyone she meets.
Just a few short years ago, Mary was a caregiver at another memory care community. Initially, she had no plans of changing roles from her position there. But when one of her very favorite resident’s family asked her to make the move with them to Fieldstone, Mary decided it was time to set out on a new adventure.
It wasn’t long before the Executive Director at Fieldstone realized that Mary’s dedication to people made her a great fit for the life enrichment team. She had a way of connecting with people as if she’d known them for years.
So what does Mary’s job look like on a daily basis? On some days, she may help residents to the restroom while on an outing away from the building or assist residents with the part of an activity that the resident cannot do. This can vary from placing bingo tiles on the resident’s board as the letters are called to setting up a program on our innovative iN2L platform so the resident can virtually engage in being at the opera. There is no part of an activity that Mary cannot help with or bring joy to by being, well, herself.
Most recently, with families unable to visit due to COVID-19, Mary stepped in to bridge the distance they felt. Facetime, Zoom, Skype and the resident-centric, adaptive iN2L program has empowered residents and families to virtually visit with each other as often as possible. For some residents, this means Mary sets them up on a computer or phone in their rooms and checks in every fifteen minutes. For other more memory-impacted residents, Mary facilitates the entire conversations, including reading, interpreting and conveying non-verbal communications from the resident to their family members. She is now also helping facilitate window visits. There is no length Mary won’t go to ease the hearts and minds of her residents and families.
Understandably, many caregivers, staff and residents of senior living communities became afraid when COVID-19 hit. But for Mary, this virus’s impact on those she cares for most has only intensified her trust that she is in the very best place, with the very best team, doing the very best job she can to bring as much joy and comfort possible to her residents during this heartbreaking time. Even before the state placed restrictions on visitors or assisted living practices, Mary remembers how safe she felt knowing that Fieldstone had already implemented several safety precautions.
A large part of the reason Mary loves her work at Fieldstone is that she feels the safest and most supported she’s ever felt at work. For her, “Walking into Fieldstone Memory Care of Issaquah felt like coming home, in a way that if I ever needed it, this is where I’d want my second home to be.”
It is this feeling of being at home that Mary is determined to provide each and every resident that she cares for at Issaquah Memory Care. It is no surprise that Mary assured her team that she was staying put, and riding the wave of this virus out. Mary’s colleague, Sara Lattimer, describes her as someone who “has the biggest heart of anyone I have ever met” and that she “has a true love for the residents.”
Even prior to COVID-19, people like Mary were considered heroes. But she’d not see it that way. In fact, when people refer to her as a hero, she says that “we are not heroes, we are just being human!” Because to be human for Mary is to wear her heart on her sleeve, kindness in her eyes and a reverence for life in her heart. Mary is adored by other staff, family members and residents. Many have turned to her way of approaching life and caregiving for strength during these times. Most of us are beyond ready for this virus to end and to once again be able to visit, hold and interact with our loved ones. But for now, we hold that vision while doing what needs to be done to care for our residents and staff. Like Mary, kindly and dutifully bringing a tablet, iPhone or iN2L screen, like clockwork, to each of her residents for their virtual or window visits, serving one family at a time until it is time for her to serve in a different way.
Thank you, Mary, for being such an important part of the Fieldstone family!
At Fieldstone Memory Care, we are dedicated to caring for people who are living with brain changes in a holistic way. Putting careful thought, proper funding and appropriate staffing into our Life Enrichment Memory Care program helps us achieve our mission and provide high-quality and state of the art programs and activities specifically designed for those living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.