12/01/2014 10:48 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Senior Citizens Change Lives: A Lesson in Love From Working With Our Elders


Spontaneously, one of the elder care facility employees took a woman out into the center of the circle. Pushing her wheelchair around to the beat of the music, two more employees joined her with two more participants.

Asking around the circle of residents, I finally found a man who took me up on my offer:

"Would you like to dance?" I asked him.

"Yes," he replied promptly.

Marc Anthony's passionate salsa song, "Valio La Pena," played on the boom box as other employees came around to the front of participant's wheelchairs and took the residents hands. Dancing and swaying with them to the rhythms of the music, everyone's faces lit up.

The History of Latin Dance, an event I provide for elder care facilities, was in full swing, and I mean really swinging!

As soon as the footrests were taken off the wheelchair of the man I was going to dance with, I began to push him out into the center of the room. Wheeling him up to the first participant I saw, the nurse wheeling her around and I exclaimed: "They can dance together!"

Pushing them up as close as we could to face each other, they reached out their hands. In a magical moment, the man grasped the ladies hands and they swayed back and forth to the music. Eagerly looking at each other, the woman's eyes gleamed, as they smiled brightly at each other.

In all the events I've done at elder care facilities, this is the first time I've seen this kind of enthusiasm and connection between staff and residents.

After Marc Anthony took his bow on the boom box and we finished the event, I spoke with a couple of female residents, who sat at the opposite end of the room. One loved to dance when she was younger, "Any kind of dancing," she replied when I asked which styles she liked.

Sitting close by was another woman, dressed sharply with a yellow knit sweater and red scarf with white polka dots around her neck. During the event, she didn't look so enthused and didn't seem to be participating much.

I walked over to her. "How are you?" I asked tentatively.

"I'm fine," she responded with a quiet, but sure voice.

I walked up closer and we started to talk.

"My brother and I danced together. We were a dance team," she said smiling. "My husband and I were the Cha Cha Kings," she exclaimed! "I'm 95 years old. No dancing now," she said with a wry smile.

"Wow," I responded, taken aback.

Memories of Abram, a man who was a professional ballroom and Latin dancer, who literally danced circles around me at the first elder care facility I led this event at, flooded my mind.

"Well, I've got to play a Cha Cha for you," I said, as I turned to the boom box to cue up one of my favorites by Elito Reve y Su Charangon: "El Martes."

The Cha Cha rhythm moved me into the basic step. The Cha Cha Queen instantly perked up. I could see she wanted to move her feet, as she agitatedly tried to move them atop the footrests.

"Can someone take off these footrests?" I asked excitedly at the nearest staff member.

With two clicks, the footrests were off and her feet were stepping side to side as she said, "Cha, cha, cha. Cha, cha, cha. Cha, cha, cha."

Holding her hands, we danced for a few moments together as a huge smile spread across her face. She looked at me with reverie.

"We danced on the stage at Shea's," The Cha Cha Queen told me later.

Once The Cha Cha Queen had her fill of dancing, I went over to the woman sitting next to her who said she loved to dance, just moments before, and would "love to dance in the circle."

Most of the participants were still waiting for their escorts to their next location, so I figured, "This is her time!"

"You wanna go dance around the room?" I asked her.

"Oh, yes," she replied with a wide, toothy grin!

Freeing up her breaks, I pushed her out into the open circle and wheeled her around by all the other participants. Liveliness filled the room and she smiled as I brought her over to the gentleman who had danced with the other woman in the circle earlier.

"Are we gonna eat lunch after this?" He asked the employee standing next to me.

"Yes, you're going to eat lunch," she replied, smiling.

"Would you two like to dance together?" I butt in.

"Sure," they both replied.

Wheeling the jovial woman as close to him as possible, they held each other's hands, smiling, as the man looked at the woman.

After a few short moments, they were finished and as I wheeled her away from him, he said, "Nice meeting you."

I was struck with this thought: "They don't even know each other even though they live in the same facility?!"

It was such a beautiful moment of connection, spontaneity and love.

Just as I was packing my things to leave, a man came in to take one of the last male residents out of the room. He looked like he could have been a family member, but I wasn't sure. The man rubbed the elders head lovingly with his hand and then unhooked the breaks on his wheel chair. As he pushed him out of the room, he rubbed his shoulder with such unconditional love, I was struck by that gesture and the sentiment of not being afraid to love.

Throughout that morning's event, I saw unconditional love all around me. No matter the state of the participant, staff walked up and called everyone by name, look them in the eye, touched them lovingly.

I wonder: What will our world be like when we're unafraid to love? When we're brave enough to look someone we don't know in the eye and ask, "How are you?" and really want to know. When it's ok to be human and it's ok to say no and it's ok to be grumpy once in a while and still feel and be loved?

I saw this kind of world being created in front of my eyes on this very special, sunny day in Western New York.

Can you remember a time when you put everything aside and loved, even in the face of fear or possible rejection?

And, if so, what was the result?

Share your story below. I want to know.

I feel so grateful for the elders I work with. It's magic to learn from them, to encourage them, meet them in the eyes with a warm, genuine smile, and receive theirs in return; to remember them, to fuel the next phase of their lives, to honor them, and to exchange and add more joy to this life with them, together.

To the Elders in our lives:

Thank you for living.

Thank you for existing.

Thank you for being here.

With Love and Gratitude,

Sarah Haykel