France - Euphrasie and Hà: their experience in the EHPAD at Issoudun

For the aspirants and postulants who are having their formation in France, the holidays are a time of relaxation and taking stock. They also provide an opportunity to become acquainted with various forms of LSA presence, including the EHPAD, a home for aged and dependent persons. Helped by the community, the young women share our daily life and have an opportunity to practise their French. Our LSA community in the EHPAD at Issoudun numbers at present 27 sisters. There are also 4 Religious of the Assumption.

The home can receive 68 residents and has at present 27 religious (4 LSA are in outside accommodation), an aged priest, and 40 laypeople – 31 women and nine 9 men. People like the original style of the house: an ancient residence that has been ingeniously renovated to become an EHPAD that is in line with the regula-tions! Some fine ceilings and stone walls are a treat for the eyes. 
The extensive grounds offer the freshness of the vegetation and long alleys for walking, but many here cannot walk the whole length! Fortunately there is a large terrace where people can sit out without any risks and be present at the open-air activities. A recent unit for Alzheimer patients provides an extension to the ground-floor corridor. 
 
Each day it is a joy to see the coming and going of many visitors. As most of the residents come from the surrounding area, the afternoon tea is the occasion for convivial meetings. The families know one another or meet up again after having lost sight of one another. All this creates an agreeable atmosphere that is encouraged by our Directress and her staff. The young and dynamic activities leader is unsparing in her efforts to see that the new arrivals feel at home and that they integrate.
 
 
Two festive occasions mark the year. One is on the occasion of the religious life jubilee celebrations for sisters sometimes linked with the celebration of a 100th birthday or other event. 
 
The other is the festive country meal under tents on the terrace in summer with tables and chairs loaned by the town council. And of course, if the sun is shining, it’s even better! Many people are invited: the families of residents or people close to them, volunteer workers, all the staff. We also invite our dynamic parish priest who is pleased to meet up with former parishioners and to get to know the house a little better. To avoid adding to the work of the kitchen staff, who serve us a really festive meal, the staff members present – carers, maintenance workers and office personnel – all help to serve at table alongside the catering staff. 
 
The EHPAD, as a place of care and of employment, also offers a time of work experience for various future staff members. Many young people pass through the house. Our directress is also willing to receive our young sisters who are on an LSA placement. So, the arrival this year of Euphrasie (a future novice, from Madagascar) and of Hà, (an aspirant from Vietnam), was in no way unsettling. Françoise Evrard, the sister in charge of the community, had prepared in liaison with the staff a light programme of participation through practical help,: 
- at the breakfast for dependent persons who are brought to the dining room for this meal after being washed and dressed. Euphrasie et Hà used to come, each in turn, to help serve the coffee, butter slices of bread and keep an eye on each one. One of the employees looked after the persons likely to be at risk and the nurse was there to keep an eye on all; 
- as the sacristy was in some difficulty, help was given by each of them, and also for 
- watering the plants that brighten up the corridors. This was with Sister Angèle Céleste who knows all the plants and the type of care each of them needs. 
 
 
The visits made to one or other person gave joy and were an opportunity to have conversations in French. The activities leader willingly opened her afternoon activities to Hà and Euphrasie. Also, it is not possible to come to Issoudun without discovering something of the surrounding area: a fortnight passes quickly! 
In her assessment of the two weeks Hà said: ’…It is touching to see young staff who find joy in working with old people’. And Euphrasie: ’I was struck by the mutual help and the kindness of the staff members, especially the youngest ones’. The most difficult part was perhaps the meals. Conviviality is not always easy with people who are hard of hearing or who continually repeat the same questions! 
 
The grateful smile on the part of some and the discreet tears at the time of leaving told us that something deep had been experienced despite the advanced age, the handicaps and the language difficulty. 
After their departure our community discussed how they had experienced this placement. 
 
Here is a little of what was said – ’It was a piece of good fortune for us. They brought joy and simplicity. I felt not quite so old because we could see in them what we have so much at heart.’ –- ’Euphrasie talked with one of the residents who thinks she may have roots in Madagascar. When Euphrasie was leaving the woman gave her a drawing to give to her "cousin"! –- ’At table, Hà used to ask a lot of questions about the life of the house and the EHPAD Charter.’ – ’I was struck both by their seriousness and their constant smile.’ –’In the house we could really feel a reciprocal welcome. They came several times to the activities and they used to note what they hadn’t understood so as to ask afterwards.’ 
We observed our times of prayer regularly and with attention, despite our limited possibilities with regard to singing. Also, the fact that there were two of them was an advantage both for them and for us: ’It obliged us to talk in French together and made it possible for us to discuss our respective cultures.’ 
 
(As it is not possible to have accommodation at the EHPAD we were able to rent a room for the fortnight at the neighbouring parish boarding school where the four LSA live and which is empty during the holidays.) 
 
Sister Françoise and the community at Issoudun
17/11/2014
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