Tuesdays with Flowers: Making Memories Blossom
with Random Acts of Flowers
Describing Stephanie Mataya as a caregiver feels like a vast understatement once you get to know her. A full-time speech pathologist, wife, mom, stepmom, and dog/cat/lizard mom, Stephanie spends her time bettering the lives of the people (and animals) who surround her and nurturing a culture of care and compassion in her community. For the past fifteen years, Stephanie has been a speech pathologist at BayCare, one of the largest healthcare systems in Pinellas County, Florida, and during that time, she has become very involved in the Random Acts of Flowers mission both at work and during her free time.
This is her story of the impact delivering hope has had in her life.
I work with the elderly and a lot of our patients are people who come to us from long-term care or assisted living facilities. They are often people who are dealing with dementia for the first time and don’t have family around. That’s an issue we deal with a lot here in Florida. People come down here to retire and then they are alone.
The flowers that Random Acts of Flowers delivers create an emotional connection, and people – when they’re in the hospital – are overwhelmed. Their families are overwhelmed. It’s such a surreal experience and when flowers are there, you feel like a normal person. We expect to see flowers and trees and grass, and we take them for granted. But, when you’re in a facility, you don’t have the opportunity to go outside and enjoy nature in the same way.
The flowers create that feeling that someone cares about them, and it’s a great way to start a conversation about something other than the care they’re receiving. Everything’s being done to them, this is done for them. As a healthcare provider and a speech pathologist, it opens a lot of doors.
One of my favorite stories about the impact of Random Acts of Flowers is about a patient who had come from a skilled nursing facility. She wasn’t talking to us or interacting; she was shutting down. An RAF delivery came, and the flowers were on her windowsill. I brought the flowers over to her and started talking about them and had her smell them. And, she immediately started talking with me. She said, “I remember getting flowers for my birthday.” This bouquet had roses and was very fragrant and she said, “Roses are my favorite flower.”
That olfactory experience started triggering a lot of memories for her. There’s a lot of research about how the sense of smell can trigger memories and emotions. And, this woman who hadn’t spoken in a long time started speaking about her husband and her kids. From that point, she got more interactive, would eat more, etc. We encouraged her home facility to give her flowers to help her stay more alert and interactive.
Another story I love – We have a long-term care unit and we get our deliveries there every Tuesday. Recently, we had a young woman from Chicago in our care. She had a lot of memory issues, but one thing she could always remember was “on Tuesdays, my flowers come.” We would work on her knowing the date, trying to get her oriented. She was very confused, but we could give her that touchstone – “On Tuesdays, my flowers come.” She’s well on her way to a full recovery and going back home soon. She wants to volunteer at RAF Chicago when she’s feeling better. That’s what I call a full circle!
And, because RAF made deliveries to BayCare, I was able to see the positive effect it had on patients. It encouraged me to become more involved. My family and I have done deliveries, my son’s Boy Scout troop volunteered at the workshop, and my mom has even volunteered with floral prep. The benefit I’ve seen at my workplace made me want to help deliver hope to others. I love RAF, and I love what it does for patients, caregivers, and volunteers.
One more story! My sons are 15 and 17, and we did a delivery a few years ago at an Assisted Living Facility. There was a man there who had dementia, and we were told not to give him any flowers because he would eat them. My sons were upset because it was the man’s birthday the next day, but we couldn’t leave any flowers for him. So, with the facility’s permission, they decided that they wanted to bring him something for his birthday. So, we went back after school the next day with food and punch and spent some time with him for his birthday. Teenage boys are not necessarily known for being that compassionate, but making the connection with this man over the flowers helped their empathy shine through. They were able to think about delivering hope and bringing care and compassion to someone.
I would tell people interested in RAF, “Get involved immediately!” It’s so simple, but it’s so powerful. When you, as a volunteer, do something with your hands – prepping the flowers, making an arrangement, delivering flowers – it gets into your soul. One thing that’s especially great is that the feedback is immediate, and you can see it and feel it in the moment. When you talk about the ripple effect, the caregiver and the volunteer gets to enjoy the glow that the deliveries create.