"My purpose with Milton was to make him smile."
This was one of the first reflections that 8th grader, Zuzzie Savitz, shared with me in my office one November afternoon as she talked about her special relationship with NewBridge resident, Milton Frank.
Zuzzie and Milt met in the spring of 2012 where he was a resident in Assisted Living and Zuzzie was a 6th grader in the Making Memories Program. Every Friday, for 7 weeks, Zuzzie and her classmates walked over to NewBridge and spent time with residents in the Memory Support units in Assisted Living and the Health Care Center.This was one of the first reflections that 8th grader, Zuzzie Savitz, shared with me in my office one November afternoon as she talked about her special relationship with NewBridge resident, Milton Frank.
From the time Zuzzie began the Making Memories Program, she simply stood out with her understated confidence, deep compassion and fun loving spirit that she brought to every encounter with the residents.
Zuzzie's ease with and compassion for elders began many years ago. For as long as she can remember, Zuzzie always liked hanging out with older people. When she was just five years old, she went to visit her Nana in the Cardio Unit at Brigham and Women's Hospital and played her violin. Some of the nurses heard her and asked if she could play for their patients. Her mom, Penny, remembered Zuzzie was fearless. She went to the rooms of each patient in the unit and played for each one. That day she brought many smiles to these very ill people -- especially her Nana. Zuzzie remarked that she remembers that feeling to make someone's day happier.
"Knowing I was the perk/peak of someone's day...it was so satisfying to make them smile."
Zuzzie met Milt for the first time during her first visit of what would be a three-year experience with the residents in Memory Support. She had played cards with Lucia, a resident who she became very fond of over time. And then she remembers sitting down with Milton. Right away, she felt he was different from the other residents. He spoke a lot during that first year. He and Zuzzie would talk about books. He recommended Harry Potter to her. He shared with her how books affected them as people. For each Friday visit that followed, Zuzzie kept finding Milton at the same table and she was conscious of their growing connection.
"I think my purpose could be viewed differently by Milton, Lucia and Edna."
For Zuzzie, her purpose at these weekly visits was to talk to someone who needed someone to talk to. She was able to uncover the type of person each resident was by how they talked about their life experiences. Zuzzie had an unusual gift: she didn't always need words to appreciate the residents she was meeting. She remembers that even when she was having a one-sided conversation with Edna, she could tell that Edna had an opinion -- that she was opinionated.
"I can only imagine how the days can be long for the residents and how nice it is to talk to a special visitor."
As meaningful as it was for residents like Milt, Lucia, and Edna to meet Zuzzie, Zuzzie benefitted equally. She enjoyed talking to the residents and doing things with them. It came naturally for her. But for other kinds of experiences, Zuzzie has not always felt so at ease and comfortable. It was common for Zuzzie to bring her clipboard and pencils when she knew she would be in unfamiliar social situations. Zuzzie would depend on these things and delve into drawing/sketching when she was unsure about the interactions. At NewBridge, Zuzzie never felt like she needed her clipboard to escape a situation. She was always present. One of the NewBridge staff remarked that it was great to see Zuzzie connect with the residents so strongly.
"The connection we made with the NewBridge staff is so genuine; it's not fake. You can really have deep conversations. As 8th graders, we felt taken more seriously with the NewBridge staff -- not just the teachers taking us more seriously. With the NewBridge staff, they took my connection with Milton seriously."
This fall, Zuzzie and her classmates participated in their third and final Making Memories experience. While Zuzzie was not shocked to see Milt's decline and his inability to talk to her like he did three years before, it was very sad and upsetting for her. Having spent considerable time together over the years, Zuzzie knew what Milt was trying to say even when his communication skills were compromised. For Zuzzie, what was most important was that Milt was genuinely happy to see her each time. When he wasn't feeling up to joining the Rashi students in the activity area, the NewBridge staff would arrange for Zuzzie to visit Milt in his apartment. She remarked, "I was over the moon that I could see him." For her last visit this past fall, Zuzzie went to Milt's apartment. She met his wife Marcia. Her artwork was everywhere. Milt was always so proud of his wife and her artwork and he always wanted to show it to Zuzzie. And Zuzzie did show Milt some of her artwork, too.
"I hope that Milton is with the next Rashi group. I really do hope that this next group connects with him. It makes me happy if people will see him."
That wish was not to be realized. Shortly after Zuzzie and I met, we received an email from Kim, our NewBridge partner and leader for the Making Memories Program in Assisted Living, sharing the very sad news that Milton had died the day before. When Zuzzie received the news, she was devastated and heartbroken. She wept. Her classmates and teachers lovingly surrounded her knowing she had shared a unique connection with one of the residents. The next day, we found out that a letter Zuzzie had written to Milton earlier in the fall was read by Rabbi Karen Landy and his wife, Marcia, at his memorial service the following day. Zuzzie was so touched to hear that news.
"My purpose with Milton was to make him smile."
It wouldn't be surprising that Milton was smiling down on Zuzzie at that moment, and even now, today.