I was doing my weekly volunteering at local nursing homes when I decided that there was one huge component missing here with the residents of this facility…no one went outside. Sun downing is a real phenomenon that happens. As soon as the sun goes down everyone becomes upset, confused, agitated, and from what I have seen, lost. I started thinking that if they could just get OUT, then maybe things would be different. I wrote a blog post called Being Stephanie about my years as a volunteer. If I were savvy enough to post a link to it on this I would! This morning I was thinking about a moment during that time.
I had many roles which I had not planned. I was supposed to be there as a volunteer chaplain but that role had many hats I discovered, and I was fine with all of them. My intention was to give love where there was none. Sometimes love meant holding a hand, sometimes love meant hearing stories that had never been told, sometimes love meant helping someone get dressed, feeding them dinner, or helping them to the bathroom. I was sitting with a kind woman one day as she was looking at a bird feeder and a bird was chirping and eating. I was filing her nails for her when she said, ” I haven’t heard a bird sing in so long.” I asked her how long it had been since she had been outside. She couldn’t even remember. I will never forget wheeling her outside and the look on her face when the breeze touched her face. She closed her eyes and smiled. We were silent. I wheeled her to a bench and sat there while she looked at the sky and listened to the birds. After awhile she told me she was ready to go back in now. Watching her watch those birds was something that has stuck with me. I felt so honored to be with her while she experienced such joy and peace. Every visit after I chose a different person to take outside. I’m not sure if never hearing a bird sing contributed to sundowning but seeing the sun and feeling it on your skin had to help the brain not panick when the sun went down in one small way. At least I hoped.
I get it now. Some days it is hard to get up and get outside. On the days that I don’t go outside, when the sun sets, I feel this sometimes ominous feeling come over me. I feel like I missed life. I feel like I have to sleep and wake up and start this all over again and I don’t want to. Sleep evades me. I get depressed and full of anxiety and adrenaline at just the darkness. I understand why they felt the way they did. Never going outside was like a prison for their body and their mind. We are supposed to feel the breeze on our face. It reminds us that we are here. We matter. We are part of this world and an integral part at that. Not just some insignificant shadow when the sun goes down.
Every day I go outside now. I listen to the birds. Often, if you were to look at me, you’d see the same look of joy on my face as I felt the sun on it. Now I know what that look most likely meant to my sweet friend in the nursing home. It meant: I’m alive!