Five years ago, Susan Wong was getting ready for retirement from her career in accounting when she saw an ad for Montgomery College about aging gracefully. “Something about that caught my eye,” Wong said. She took one class and one thing led to another until she got a bachelor’s degree in gerontology at the age of 54.
Wong runs a small group home off of Quince Orchard Road called Lin’s House. The group home has been in operation for five years and has a maximum of seven beds. Some of the rooms are private, and some of them are shared by two residents. In the backyard, there is a small vegetable garden and a paved walkway so residents can walk around in the summer. A cook makes homemade meals every day. The oldest resident is 96 years old.
What makes Lin’s House different from other group homes is that it’s one of the very few Cantonese speaking homes for the elderly in the area. Lin’s House is a refuge for many Asian American residents.
Wong said that one of her residents, Mrs. Chan, was in a traditional retirement home before she arrived at Lin’s House. Mrs. Chan was so distraught in this foreign environment, where she didn’t understand the language being spoken and was not used to the food being served, that she tried to escape many times. Wong said Mrs. Chan also developed anxiety and repeatedly said that her son didn’t love her.
Once Mrs. Chan arrived at Lin’s House, she calmed down, Wong said. The older woman still paces the floor whenever anxiety strikes her, but she no longer tries to run away.
“She’s content,” Wong said. “I don’t think anyone could be happy in a facility, but she’s content.”
Contentedness is a huge goal for Wong and her staff. During the first couple of months, Wong tries to get to know her residents and figure out their likes and dislikes.
“Ann (a new, non-Asian resident) doesn’t like Chinese food, so we tried to find out what she does like. She likes mashed potatoes and vegetables,” Wong said. “She also likes doing puzzles,” Wong added as she showed off Ann’s first completed puzzle, a 500-piece harbor scene.
Another resident, who is legally blind, used to be a music teacher, Wong explained. They place her in the sunroom away from the hubbub of the main room and give her old Cantonese music to listen to by herself. Her slippers have bells on them. She is content also.
Wong also understands the importance of empowering her residents. “I keep thinking, ‘I’m 60 years old and in 10 or 20 years I’m going to be in their place,’ and I think, ‘How would I want to be taken care of?’ We try to encourage them as much as possible,” Wong said.
Perhaps it is because of this empathy that Wong is extremely dedicated to her residents. John, one of her residents, had to go to the hospital after he received the flu shot and Wong stayed the night at the group home to make sure he would be OK.
Wong’s sunny outlook and her fortitude belie a tough life. Born in Hong Kong, Wong immigrated to the U.K. before coming to the U.S. Lin’s House is named after her son, Lin, who passed away when he was 8 years old. His photo, a black and white of a young boy, hangs in her office.
What’s next for Wong and Lin’s House?
“I’m going to really start thinking about retirement,” Wong said, laughing. But it’s difficult to find someone to replace her in doing the work that she does.
“Taking care of the elderly is not for everyone,” Wong observed. “You need to have patience. You need to know when to take a break.”
It’s lunchtime at Lin’s House. One of the residents sits at the head of the table, saying grace. Another resident is being encouraged by staff to use his feet and arms to propel his wheelchair to the bathroom to wash up. Two residents are dozing in front of the TV, and Mrs. Chan has been picked up by her son to go out to lunch. Ann has fallen asleep over her most recent puzzle. There’s a quiet that has settled over Lin’s House.
Perhaps it’s the sound of contentment.