Senior learns life lessons working with elderly


“As one grows older, needs change and it may be more difficult to do many tasks that were once considered routine,” says the website of New Cassel Retirement Center. Senior Elise Pape knows this well. About a year and a half ago, Pape’s grandmother moved into New Cassel. Pape’s grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, and she and her family wanted a good place for her to live. Pape later applied to work at the center because of her love for serving the elderly. She has worked there about ve times a week every week for more than a year.

“I work in enrichment,” Pape said. “That’s simply just talking to people and getting them involved in activities, like playing Bingo with them and fun games with them … because not a lot of people get that interaction.”

Several residents have made a huge impact on Pape’s life. One resident, Mary Rose, is the mother of Servite Sr. Midge Petersen. Mary is 102 years old and, according to Pape, a bit stubborn. “She’s very old school; she likes to do everything her way,” Pape said. “[It’s] her way or no other way.”

However, Sr. Midge said otherwise. “Elise has been a gift … Elise got [Mary] to do so many things my brothers nor I could get her to do.” Despite Mary’s love for independence, Pape has been able to help Mary do things as simple as going outside.

Mary’s grit has inspired Pape. When Mary broke her hip, Pape came to visit her. She was shocked to nd the woman sitting in her hospital bed laughing.

“I told her, ‘Mary! This isn’t funny, you could die!’” Pape recalled. “And she said, ‘You know what, Elise? I’ve lived the best life. I’m sitting back in my chair, and I’ve lived the best life I could possibly live.’”

Mary recovered and continues to have a great attitude. “I think she’s impacted me because she’s so positive and always has a good outlook on life, no matter what,” Pape said.

Pape knows that in a retirement home, residents can feel sad and lonely. That is why she loves to simply listen to what the residents have to say. “You really have to have an open heart for [the job]; be very compas- sionate,” Pape said. “There’s a lot of people who are struggling with past stuff, past family issues, and current family issues, and being an open ear for them is amazing because they can’t do that to anybody else.”

At work, Pape sees her grandmother every day. “Before she went into New Cassel, she didn’t know who I was speci cally on a daily basis,” Pape said. “It was just hard to see her kind of transform into that person who is just so not aware of their surroundings, not aware of who they were. And then when she got into New Cassel, she was miraculously okay … I think [that] also shows that inter- action with people, being in a society with people, is so good. So I think that was nice to see.”

Pape appreciates being able to visit not only with her grandmother and Mary, but also with all of the other residents. “We had a lady who was 107 years old … her dad died on the Titanic,” Pape said. “She showed me all these photos because she can’t hear that well. I love seeing pictures of people because it shows their history.” History is not the only thing residents have taught Pape.

“[The] biggest thing you learn about a retirement home: old people, it’s like they’re in high school again,” Pape joked. “It’s insane. They have their own cliques and stuff … My grandma is like the queen bee; I’m not kidding you.”

Pape loves her job and hopes to continue helping the elderly by becoming a geriatric doctor. In that job, she might continue to learn valuable life lessons.

“Being so positive in life in the worst situations, and living life to the fullest and never taking anything for chances … I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve gotten out of the job,” Pape said.

elisepape color

Elise Pape and her grandmother. Photo Courtesy of Pape.

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