A dose of Donna’s spirit to brighten any given day

It’s a lovely spring afternoon as I walk through the Johnston neighbourhood at The Village of Sandalwood Park on my way to meet with a resident. I’m with Jen Gould, the Village’s recreation director, and as we walk by another resident’s room, a cheery voice calls out to Jen to say hello.

Donna and Debbie sit together on the salon, bright and smiley.The bright smile behind the voice is Donna’s.

“If you’re ever having a bad day, speak with Donna for a few minutes and it will all turn around,” Jen tells me as we walk into Donna’s room. I introduce myself and before long we’re chatting about life in the Village and her family and the fact that one of her sons knows Jen from back in the day long ago.

Brampton, she tells me, used to be small town.

I make a plan to catch up with Donna after lunch. In my life outside of work, I’d faced some recent challenges after the sudden loss of a loved one, and Donna seems like she possesses the perfect energy I need in my first week back in the Villages.

When I see her next, she’s in the hair salon chatting away with Debbie, the stylist who first joined the team when the Village first opened more than 20 years ago; she has been a fixture ever since.

I join the conversation and ask Donna how she came to be at the Village. She tells me about her lovely home and the life she had with her family all around her, and how she took a bad fall in front of her grandson one day, scaring him to no end and altering her path in life drastically.

That fall changed everything. She was months in hospital recovering and though she would lose much of her ease of mobility, her positivity and optimism will forever remain untouchable. While she was in hospital, Donna’s daughter found Sandalwood Park, “and thank God she did,” she says. “I love it here.”

To go from full independence to a long-term care home in such a short span of time can’t be easy, I suggest. How does she remain so positive in her contentment?

“It’s just the way I am,” she says, chuckling away as Debbie nods in agreement.

“She’s always smiling,” Debbie says, “and always so kind.”

Kindness, Donna says, goes a very long way, and in the two years she’s lived at Sandalwood Park, she’s made so many wonderful connections with residents and the team. Those connections are what can make difficult times easier to bear, she says, and in that thought, I’m grateful to have connected with her.

Our conversation meanders for 20 minutes? 45? 60? – It’s hard to say as time slips on when you’re enjoying yourself, but eventually with a big hug, we part ways.

I feel much brighter as I carry on.