Twenty years ago, Fairhaven Community, the senior living community I currently serve, began a program with Disney designed to highlight teamwork and service. As part of the project, staff members were invited to place their handprints on a wall in the lower level of the building. While I was not serving Fairhaven at that time, I have always felt drawn to those handprints. Often, as I walk by the wall of handprints, I will stop and look at the names of the people written alongside the handprints. Some of the names I do not recognize, as the handprints belong to former staff. Some of the handprints belong to people who have retired. Other handprints belong to teammates serving older adults alongside me. I pause, at times, at the handprints of those who are now deceased and remember them. On the wall are also handprints of once small children who now serve older adults alongside their parents.
Pausing to Remember
As I have paused at the wall, other staff members, at times, have paused with me, remembering. I have been fortunate enough to have staff members share stories of the people behind the handprints — those I never knew. They have talked of family members. They have shared stories of volunteers whose handprints grace the wall. One staff member told me about a person from the greater community whose child had once worked at Fairhaven. He no longer lived in the area. Anytime she would visit Fairhaven, she would pause at the wall long enough to touch his handprint.
As a chaplain, I enjoy hearing about the people behind the handprints. Each handprint represents someone who served the residents and families of Fairhaven over the years. Since 1920, we have a history of caregiving at this location. For me, the handprints are a reminder that together, the work of our hands has made — and will continue to make — a difference in the lives of older adults.
Adding New Prints
At various times during my seven plus years at Fairhaven, I have turned the corner just as someone was adding their handprint to the wall. For these staff members, it meant something to leave their handprint behind. Although I do not know all the reasons for these additions, I do know that the work of their hands is part of the fabric of who we are at Fairhaven.
On August 23, 2020, after years of gazing on the handprints of others, I, too, added my handprint to the wall. For me, my handprint is a symbol of the long history of spiritual care provided to residents, families and staff here at Fairhaven. My handprint is a reminder of the spiritual work of my hands.
At times, my hands have held the hands of the dying. My hands have held the hands of residents living with dementia as they reached out their hands, looking for comfort. My hands have held the hands of family members who were grieving and searching for support. On nice days, my hands have held the handles of wheelchairs as I took residents for a stroll outside. Annually, during the blessing of the hands of staff, I have held the hands of Fairhaven’s caregivers as I have blessed the services their hands provide in caring for older adults here. I have held the hands of others during prayer. At the service installing me as the chaplain at Fairhaven, I remember during the laying on of hands, the hands of others resting on my shoulders, head and arms. During this part of the service, I remember reaching out, touching the hands of others. In that moment, I felt the power and presence of God and community. These are a few ways my hands have provided spiritual support at Fairhaven.
Hands During COVID-19
During the COVID pandemic, the work of caring for older adults during the pandemic has not been easy. There have been times, at Fairhaven, that we have collectively and personally experienced grief, sadness, fear, and exhaustion. Yet, through the work of our hands, not a day has passed when the older adults we serve lacked care and compassion. My handprint, like the handprints of my fellow teammates, represents the essential services I provide to those I serve.
I read a statement recently that sums up, for me, why my handprint on the wall at Fairhaven matters. It stated, “We are here because we love the ones you love.” Yes! Our wall of handprints at Fairhaven represents people whose hands serve out of compassion, care and love for the people entrusted in our care. Now, as I walk by the wall of handprints, the work of my hands is represented symbolically, too.