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Former Antioch College faculty member Hannah Goldberg has lived in the Friends Care Community for almost three years. She’s shown here with her daughter, Lisa Goldberg, in her Friends Care room. In the back is a quilt made by Hannah Goldberg’s colleagues in honor of her when she retired as provost of Wheaton College.

At Friends Community, sweet care and bittersweet holidays

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While Friends Care Community employees work hard all year long, they put in extra effort over the holidays, according to longtime restoration aide Kent Little, who has worked in the local nursing home for 23 years.

“Employees try hard to make it a good Christmas for residents,” he said this week. “They take pride in what they do.”

That effort is apparent to visitors, who are greeted in the FCC lobby this week by a Christmas tree decorated in red and gold, a poinsettia and a menorah. Wreaths line the hallway that leads to the multipurpose room, and the room itself emerges as a winter fantasyland, complete with icicle lights hanging from rafters, a miniature snow-covered village perched on the mantel and a glittering tree that reaches up to the ceiling.

While Friends Care Community employees work hard all year long, they put in extra effort over the holidays, according to longtime restoration aide Kent Little, who has worked in the local nursing home for 23 years.

But while the FCC staff seems to be making an all-out effort to dispense seasonal cheer, there’s no doubt that the holidays can be rough on older people. According to FCC Social Worker Amanda Kelly, many residents have by this point in their lives lost their spouse, their home, their community, their health and perhaps some, or all, of their friends.

“The holidays are hard,” she said. “They bring to mind so many losses in general.”

And the holidays may be especially hard for those new to the facility, Kelly said. These residents are not only adjusting to unknown surroundings but are also unsure how they’ll celebrate the holidays in their new environment. One of those new residents is longtime villager Willa Dallas, who recently moved to the center to be with her husband, Meredith, or Dal, who for decades was a well-known Antioch College theater professor and actor.

“At times, it feels strange,” Willa said last week, regarding her new life. The hardest part, she said, is “keeping myself present, wanting to enjoy myself.”

Everything seems a bit overwhelming, she said, including her future plans.

“I don’t know how long I’ll be here,” she said. “Maybe for quite a while.”

Kindness from staff helps considerably, Willa said, pointing to employee Theresa Forminash, a kitchen staff employee known for her warmth and caring.

“People like her make a difference,” Willa said.

What also makes a difference is receiving visits from friends, Willa said, because those connections help to lessen the discomfort of moving to an unknown facility.

“Having visitors makes me feel I’m in touch with people,” she said.

The considerable efforts of her family, including her daughter, Patti, and her son and daughter-in-law, Tony and Migiwa, also have helped her to adjust, Willa said.

The Dallas family has made a difference not only to Willa, but to other FCC residents, according to another longtime villager, Irwin Abrams, who has lived in the facility almost a year. Sometimes, Patti brings her banjo and sings in the dining room during meals, and her music brings joy to the residents, Abrams said.

While his daughter, Carole, lives in town, Abrams, who is in his 90s, has no other family members living close by, a loss he feels especially over the holidays.

“The hardest thing is the lack of family,” he said.

An Antioch College professor emeritus in history and a Nobel peace prize expert, Abrams gets pleasure from the center’s music recitals, although a recent event proved bittersweet. A young violinist played several Spanish folk songs that Abrams’ wife, Freda, had translated into English, and hearing the songs both thrilled and saddened him, Abrams said, since Freda, who died 10 years ago, couldn’t be there as well.

“We were such a happy couple,” Abrams said, showing the photo of his wife that sits by his bed.

Abrams has a unique perspective on the Friends Care Community, which opened its doors in 1980. As a longtime Quaker, Abrams was part of the group that organized the fundraising effort that created the center. The Quakers were responding to the vision of former Antioch College president Arthur Morgan, an advocate of small communities who felt that villagers should be able to stay in the community as they age.

Thirty years ago when the center began, he never imagined himself as a resident, Abrams said. Like most people, he would prefer to be in his own home, and he wishes he could do some things that he can no longer do. But overall, he’s pleased with the center he helped to build, and with the care he receives.

“I think I’m lucky,” he said. “I’m lucky to be alive and to be here.”

While Hannah Goldberg also wishes she could be in her own home rather than a nursing facility, her advanced kidney disease makes that impossible. And after three years in Friends Care, the lines between home and institution have begun to blur.

“It has become my home,” she said of the facility last week.

Goldberg has brought as much of her home as possible to her Friends room, which is decorated with favorite paintings and a quilt made by former colleagues. Her life is immeasurably enriched by visits from her daughter, Lisa, and her longtime friends and colleagues, including Ilsa and Cy Tebbetts, who come each Sunday, and Vic Ayoub, who reads aloud to Goldberg each afternoon.

“I’m not lonely here,” she said. “I have plenty of company.”

Like Meredith Dallas and Irwin Abrams, Goldberg is also a former Antioch College faculty member. She taught history and was dean of faculty before moving to Wheaton College to become provost of that school. Failed spinal surgery, and the kidney disease that followed, brought her back to Yellow Springs to live in Friends and to be near her daughter.

While she believes Friends is an excellent facility, there’s no denying that some things are difficult. Most challenging for Goldberg, an independent spirit, is her dependency on others for almost everything, she said. Just recently, she has become able to walk a short distance with assistance, a change that feels like a major victory.

But some things could be better. The food often disappoints, Goldberg said, and one way she keeps her spirits up is to take her meals in her room rather than in the dining room. When she tried eating in the dining room with other residents, she found the experience depressing, since she was seated with some residents who couldn’t speak, she said.

While the center is not perfect, Goldberg credits Friends staff members with doing everything they can to make life in a nursing home as good as it can be.

“The staff are very kind,” she said. “They try to make it as pleasant as possible.”

By far the majority of Friends Care residents are either former villagers or relatives of villagers, according to Friends Marketing Director Becky Baker. While some residents, like Goldberg, have many friends who visit regularly, most do not, and Baker encourages Yellow Springs residents to visit those they know, or just stop in to make new friends. The holiday season is an excellent time to visit, she said, but visitors shouldn’t restrict themselves to that time frame.

“Not just at Christmas,” she said. “The need is here all year long.”

Villagers can also make a difference by volunteering at the center, Baker said. Besides visiting residents, Friends could use volunteers who can provide musical activities or share information about their favorite hobby, among other options, she said. Interested persons should contact Baker or Todd Sheets at 767-7363.

Kent Little is one of the Friends staff scheduled to work on Christmas day. Beloved by many residents and family members for his kindness and humor (full disclosure: my mom was a recent resident), he’ll use the occasion to ask residents to share their memories, something he enjoys doing every day but especially over the holidays. While Christmas will be a hard day for some residents, it will also be a day when residents and staff members give and receive love to and from each other, he believes, stating that he receives as much love and joy as he gives.

“I love my job,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

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