Just yesterday I was in a meeting where we were asked to define “service culture”. My comment was that it is something that you definitely know it when you see it or experience it and you also know and when it is missing. To illustrate this, I shared two personal stories, moments that I have experienced when service culture was present and when it was missing.
Funny enough, in our last blog I shared one of these stories. It was an example of when service culture was noticeably absent for me. I told you about an experience with my 2-year-old in an exam room for over an hour… (You can read more about that here).
Today I want to share with you a time when I experienced an amazing service culture, the story reflected in the picture above. It happened two summers ago when my husband’s grandmother, or Granny as we called her, was passing. This wasn’t just some elderly relative that I happened to meet once I got married. No, she was an integral part of our lives and the lives of our children. She’d been a very influential person in my husband’s life. And since I married my high school sweetheart, I’d known Granny for over 25 years. During that time, she became my Granny as well. We’d traveled together with her and her husband and at least once a year, we made trips to Oklahoma so that our kids could spend time with her. We even named one of our daughters after her.
Granny had dementia in her last few years but we still visited with her as often as we could. When we got the call that she was in hospice in her final days/hours, we packed up the kids and made our way to Oklahoma. At the time, I wasn’t sure that bringing three kids (then ages 13, 10 and 6) into that situation was the wisest, but my husband and I both wanted to be there and that meant that our kids had to come too. What transpired from there were some of the most profound and beautiful moments I’ve ever had the chance to experience.
I told someone recently that I’m only ever a germ-a-phobe in two situations – on airplanes and in hospitals (and by extension nursing homes). Somehow I let that all go when we got to Oklahoma. My kids were all over that nursing home room: my son played cars all over the floor, the girls colored pictures to put above her bed and the floor was their drawing deck (picture papers and markers everywhere). We took turns spending several days around-the-clock at Granny’s side, telling stories, laughing and letting her know that she was surrounded by love.
So, what does this all have to do with service culture? Well, one of the beautiful moments that still sticks out to me about those final days was when some of the team members came in to say their goodbyes. The woman who cleaned Granny’s room, the one who fed her at the dining room, and the one who bathed and helped to dress her asked if they could come in. Watching them say goodbye to a woman that they had only known in a confused state and yet they had clearly cared for, was amazing. Their humble respect and care for her and for us as a family (they all came together so as to not draw out the process) demonstrated such a service culture. That part still sticks out to me- even two years later.
If you haven’t ever had the privilege to be with someone in their final moments, it truly is powerful and can be a beautiful experience. After it was all over, my husband and I hugged and said how glad we were that all five of us were there. While I’d wondered if it was a good idea to bring my kids into that emotional experience, I definitely now believe that it was the right decision. Just this summer I found school assignment where my daughter was to depict what things she could do with her hands. It had a tracing of her hand and on each finger she had written about something important that she had done with her hands. On it she wrote about brushing Granny’s hair in those final hours. While my kids don’t totally get just what I do in our work with patient experience and service culture, I was so thankful for this time together and that they also got to see some of those positives in action with the staff who cared for Granny.