ELMHURST – Mike Harrington never knew that one of his wife’s neighbors in the memory care unit at Park Place had sailed around the world in a small sailboat.
He knows now, thanks to the new mural painted on the unit’s wall that honors its 20 residents with a photo and interesting tidbits about their lives.
Harrington, who lives in Park Place’s independent living unit, said when he first saw the painting, which features a large tree, he thought of the Celtic tree of life.
“The tree shows a continuous cycle of life, and I thought it was a good way to display our loved ones and wonderful lives they’ve lived,” he said.
Kathy Groenendyk, life enrichment director of health and wellness in the memory care unit, said the staff wanted to put something on the wall that highlighted the lives of the residents. Each resident has a plaque affixed on one of the tree’s leaves. There’s a quote on the bottom of the tree that reads “Time passes…memories fade … but the heart never forgets.”
“It helps with getting to know the residents and the families can feel more connected and learn about who lives with their loved one,” Groenendyk said. "The families have said they love it."
Harrington said he knows all of the residents who live in the unit by name, but he said he’s enjoyed learning more about each of them.
“This is my wife’s community, so it’s good for me to know who she’s with every day,” he said. “The residents aren’t capable of understanding because the disease has taken away their ability to recognize themselves.”
Elmhurst resident Donna Castellanos, 48, painted the mural this winter. She said it was a great experience to be able to interact with the residents.
“I’ve never been exposed to people with dementia, and it was touching to see the families come in there and they would compliment me on how beautiful the mural is,” she said.
It took Castellanos about two weeks to complete the mural. Residents would watch Castellanos paint, and she said they were interested in what she was doing and would ask questions.
“It was sad though because the next day some wouldn’t even remember me or remember that I was there,” she said.
Castellanos said she thinks the mural means more to the families of the residents, because they’re able to “brag about their loved one.”
“I hope it brings joy to them. It meant a lot to me,” she said. “It was so interesting to learn about the residents’ pasts, there are so many things you’d never know [about them]. It was great for me to have that interaction with them and their families.”
Lisa Stoik, life enrichment director at Park Place, said Castellanos was a natural fit for the project because Castellanos “has a great sense for life and the passage of time and the progression of life.”
“She did a beautiful job, and was able to make adjustments based on the people who live here,” Stoik said. “She saw that many residents are in wheelchairs or are shorter, so she moved the photographs to their eye level. She’s very aware of who her audience is.”
Harrington said he’s reminded of the lives the residents have lived every time he walks by the wall when visiting his wife.
“We look at those leaves and see life. It’s an appropriate way to honor them because the residents are still living, they’re just living in a different reality,” he said.