Forget Me Not: Sandrock Ridge provides companionship, family to its residents

I visited Sandrock Ridge Care and Rehab for the first time Friday afternoon, and I was pleasantly surprised how clean and cheerful the staff keeps the facility. Throughout the years, I’ve visited dozens of nursing homes, and a large majority don’t live up to those standards.

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Noelle Leavitt Riley

Sandrock Ridge Administrator Dollie Rose was kind enough to set up an interview for me with two delightful ladies who live at the home — Debbie Harris and Betty Rice. The two are the closest of friends.

“She’s my BFF,” Debbie said about Betty.

The two women do everything together. They are each other’s companions, confidants and — most of all — family. The pair shined a new light on what family means, which gave me a new perspective on how we define the word.

When I think of family, I think mom, dad, sister, husband, grandparents, etc. Yet not all of us are fortunate enough to constantly be surrounded by our bloodline, therefore, new families are born out of friendship, caring and giving.

Debbie is a 58-year-old woman who has struggled with the most extreme version of multiple sclerosis since 2007. She’s paralyzed from the chest down and has lived in a nursing home since paralysis began to take over her body.

“It’s very tough, but at least I can still feed myself,” she said cheerfully, showing me how her arms still work. “I’m fully functional in my head.”

She has not seen her three daughters in nearly 15 years because of family drama that she’d rather not speak about. And although visits from her family are few and far between, she finds companionship from the nursing staff, administrators, assistants and residents of Sandrock Ridge.

“The aids are my family now,” Debbie said. “They’re like my daughters that aren’t able to come and see me. I’m not necessarily their mom, but I’m their friend. Betty is like the big sister I never had. I feel like this place is my home. I love this place and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

I found comfort in what she told me, since I’ve always thought that living in a nursing home is the last thing the older population wants. It gave me a bit of hope knowing that strong bonds are developed among those who don’t see their families on a regular basis.

Debbie is part of the younger generation at Sandrock Ridge, and her parents are in their 80s and still live in their own home near Salt Lake City. She had a nice visit with them in September when they drove to Craig to spend time with her for three days.

Yet she also longs for time with her daughters, her 25-year-old son — who she hasn’t seen in two years — and her eight grandchildren. She’s hopeful that the relationships with her daughters will be reconciled and she’ll see them once again.

Betty’s story is quite different. She suffers from Type 2 diabetes, and often struggles with diabetic comas, making it nearly impossible for her to live at home with her husband.

“I’m lucky. I have a husband here in town, and I see him all the time,” she said. The couple has two adopted sons — one that lives out of state and the other that lives in Craig. He, like Debbie, suffers from multiple sclerosis.

Although she sees her family often, she feels blessed that she has a second family at Sandrock Ridge. Betty has her own conclusion as to why many family members grow reluctant to visit their loved ones in nursing homes.

“So often ... what I see is the family comes when you first come (into the nursing home) all the time. As time progresses, I think it’s harder for them to see their loved ones health fail, and it’s easier to remember them the way they were.”

I understood what Betty was saying. It’s not easy walking into a care facility and seeing elderly sitting alone in wheelchairs, staring at the wall. It’s not easy to walk down the hall and smell bodily functions of all kinds. It’s not easy to watch the ones you love fade away.

But with people like Betty and Debbie around, we all can be reminded of the good stories and heartfelt love that the elderly receive from good care and companionship of other residents.

Perhaps the best part of my visit to Sandrock Ridge — other than meeting Betty and Debbie — was when two elderly ladies who don’t live at Sandrock dropped clothes off during the interview. Bravo. I will sleep well tonight knowing how much seniors help other seniors.

Noelle Leavitt Riley is the managing editor of the Craig Daily Press. She and her husband run the Forget Me Not foundation that takes donated flowers to elderly in nursing homes. If you have a story about the older population that you’d like to see in the paper, contact Noelle at 970-875-1790 or nriley@craigdailypress.com.

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