On this winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, we celebrate Melody Howard of Sonida Senior Living, who granted wishes for her residents in honor of the Alzheimer’s Association’s The Longest Day, celebrated annually on June 21.
One day last December, the residents of a memory care center in Humble, Texas, walked in to find white, fluffy snow and the sounds of holiday bells ringing in their courtyard, where hot chocolate was being served, along with tomato soup.
This winter wonderland was orchestrated by care worker Melody Howard. One of the memory care residents Melody cared for, a woman living with Alzheimer’s, often recalled a special day when it snowed and her dad came home early from work. They played in the snow together and then warmed up by enjoying tomato soup.
“She was stuck in this timeframe for days and all she wanted was to see snow again and remember this moment with her father. So we recreated this special day. We found ways to bring people joy, and also do good by turning it into a fundraiser for The Longest Day, a sunrise-to-sunset fundraising event benefiting the Alzheimer’s Association.”
A Dedication to Sharing Joy
Melody Howard’s first passion is her patients. She is passionate that they have quality of life events at the care home, where she can help families connect with their loved one.
“Seeing everyone’s faces at the winter wonderland, entranced by the snow … it was a beautiful moment. The woman who so longed for this special day had been living at the care home for 12 years,” Melody shares. “This was the last big thing I did for her before she passed about a month later. I am so lucky to have given her joy.”
After it being such a success, Melody didn’t stop with just one winter wonderland. She decided to work through a bucket list of dreams for her residents. “One resident wanted to be a fall festival queen; she grew up seeing young people in her town given this honor. We threw a huge fall festival, with her as our queen, raising funds to benefit The Longest Day.”
Melody feels blessed to help families with the reconnection to their loved one. When witnessing some of these special moments, she came to a decision that fighting for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and supporting the people affected would be “the most important thing” in her life. “I will never stop fighting.”
Through the more difficult moments, Melody continues to bring joy to the daily lives of all her residents. “If you love someone, you want to help. Sometimes it takes a mediator to connect with a family facing Alzheimer’s — someone who can help educate, and lend some understanding.”
Melody sees that some families won't always be involved because of fear. “Alzheimer’s can be scary, but it can also present moments of sheer joy,” she says. “If a resident's son comes to our holiday party, I can show him how his mom reacts to Christmas music, or how another resident lights up when an Elvis impersonator comes to visit. I just want to show that music can still be felt, and loved. One resident’s husband came to an event and realized that his wife, living with dementia, was dancing the way she used to when she cooked in the kitchen. She recognized her husband in that moment, and went to hug him. There is something about music that breaks through more than anything.”
If someone needs to talk, Melody will listen. She will sit with a stranger at the grocery store and talk to them about Alzheimer’s for an hour after they comment on her Alzheimer’s Association T-shirt, or #ENDALZ stickers on her truck. “If they need help, I invite them to a support group. This is my life’s mission, so when people see my purple gear and make the connection, they will ask questions. I have found that wearing my purple sparks a conversation.”
Melody has dressed up as the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and in a variety of Halloween costumes for care home celebrations, including Winifred the witch from “Hocus Pocus.” Today, each of these memories is displayed in a place of honor. “My family made me a collage with photos of all my residents. I keep them all front and center in my home, and so close to my heart, because that is where they all live. I am so lucky.”