By Rachel Scher McLean / Posted on July 13th, 2016
“Living the good life” is a blog series celebrating the lives of people living with dementia in Green House homes. In Green House homes across the country, elders are creative, resourceful and whole people who have a valuable story to share.
Sharla Lee lived a colorful life as a performer, gracing many stages and breaking many hearts. Legend has it that she was even asked out on a date by baseball superstar, Joe DiMaggio. When cognitive impairment made it unsafe for her to live on her own, this talented pianist may have faded away, but thanks to Baptist Retirement Community Green House homes in San Angelo, Texas, her star continued to shine bright.
Always the professional, Sharla would wake up at 5:00a every morning in her Green House home in order to practice the piano. She loved to play for the elders during the evening meal, choosing to eat later, after her performance. In Green House homes, the day is centered around the individual elders’ natural rhythms and preferences. The small size enables the home to run smoothly based on deep knowing relationships rather than task oriented schedules. As a musician, Sharla’s preferred schedule was different than that of others living in The Green House home, and by honoring that, her personhood remained intact despite dementia.
Sharla brought joy to others in The Green House home, through her music, and also by being an engaged member of the household. She was made an “honorary shahbaz”, the name given to direct care staff in Green House homes, because she was always willing to help by rolling napkins, setting the table and befriending the other elders in the home. Reciprocity, the ability to receive and also give care, is a key element of Green House homes. As humans, we need to feel a sense of purpose. It may seem like a simple thing, but the value of sharing your gifts with others is something that can’t be overstated.
Mae West once said, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” Sharla Lee dazzled audiences in San Francisco supper clubs, on cruise ships and thankfully, in her Green House home as well. By knowing Sharla’s story, and creating opportunities for her to shine, her Green House family made sure that Sharla lived “the good life”.