Hospitality emerged as a common thread in the last two AHWGO salons. In March Rabbi Elliot Kukla and Beth MacLoed talked about the art of giving and receiving care. In April, Susan Edwards, Executive Director at a Bay Area Assisted Living Residence talked with her chef and two residents about how to avoid the ‘drama in the dining room’ in senior residences where the challenge to fit into a new group becomes overwhelming for many. Rabbi Kukla opened the door to this connection when she talked about hospitality being at the center of giving and receiving care. This ancient custom of welcoming not only guests but also strangers into our houses is the key in learning how to be hospitable to ourselves, to our aging process. It allows us to receive care without losing dignity and the authority of adulthood. Hospitality is also the key in allowing for reciprocity from the ones we care for or the loved ones who live in a care environment, recognizing that they need to be allowed/encouraged to continue to give. The notion of hospitality lifts care giving and receiving out of a state of neediness and weakness to a level of dignity and of an ancient human code of conduct. It takes time to be hospitable and it takes flexibility – at any age.
Susan Edwards made it clear that you have to feel at home in order to show the generosity of hospitality and diffuse the fear of not belonging. Making somebody feel at home in a senior residence means to let residents know that they are in control. It means seeing meals as the opportunity for a nurturing experience and not as a necessity. Cooking and feeding people is the essential nurturing experience – it makes a difference when residents know their chef and know that she takes pleasure in spoiling them. A dining room hostess knows their wishes, their preferences and helps everybody to feel welcome.
It is encouraging that ‘The California Coalition for Change’ has also recognized the importance of the meal experience in the care of nursing home residents and has issued an in-depth study and recommendations.
The environment of giving and receiving care - where people can connect, where there is openness as opposed to compartmentalization, where there is a human centered approach to the design of the physical and social environment instead of one driven by the needs of the efficiency of care giving – an environment where people feel at home and are therefore able to extend hospitality to others. Food for thought for all of us.