Feeling Connected

Cynthia Delgado brings comfort — and a sense of purpose — to the residents of St. Teresa Place

Cynthia Delgado (right) and Marj enjoy spending time together at St. Teresa Place. Photo by Jared Sych.

Cynthia Delgado (right) and Marj enjoy spending time together at St. Teresa Place. Photo by Jared Sych.

For most of her life, Cynthia Delgado never planned to work in a long-term care facility. But after years in a career as an insurance adjuster, she found herself at a crossroads when she lost her job in 2015.

The change spurred her to go back to school at 59 years old, with the aim of becoming a care administrative assistant, and she was hired on at St. Teresa Place in northeast Calgary just last year.

“I never dreamed I would end up working in this kind of facility,” Delgado says. “But I’m so glad I came. The [residents here] are now the reason I get up in the mornings and feel happy to come to work. How could I ever leave?”

As an administrative assistant, Delgado spends the majority of each workday behind a computer or stocking units with supplies. But, soon after taking up her new post, she also began to develop a special rapport with the residents. She found herself spending more and more time with them — playing music, dancing or simply talking.

Delgado was working a shift at St. Teresa Place when Dawn Turcotte moved her mother, Marj, into the facility in August 2017. Delgado felt a connection to Marj right from that very first day.

“I realized Marj was scared, because she didn’t really know where she was,” says Delgado. “I picked up on her fear, so I sat with her. It just came over me that she reminded me of my grandma. And that just put everything into perspective — I wanted to care for her.”

Delgado moved to Canada from Jamaica in 1989 and, as she reflects on her life back home, she realizes that her grandmother likely had dementia, as well.

“I didn’t know what it was back then,” Delgado says. “But I look at Marj, and I think about how I wasn’t there with my grandmother when she was sick.”

The [residents here] are now the reason I get up in the mornings and feel happy to come to work.

— Cynthia Delgado

Marj grew up outside of Brooks, Alberta, but spent most of her adult years on a farm north of Valleyview, where she enjoyed an active life taking care of her four children and her beloved horses. The family started to notice Marj’s memory difficulties about six years ago, however, which eventually led to Marj and her husband moving to a Calgary condo in 2015 to be closer to their children in the city. Two years later, Marj moved out of the condo and into St. Teresa Place.

According to her daughter, Dawn, it was a big change for such an active woman, and having people care for her wasn’t easy on her mom. Marj was always the caregiver, so, in the early days of care, she didn’t understand why someone was serving her dinner or trying to help set the table.

Delgado noticed this early on, however, and started bringing Marj along with her to stock units with supplies, or they’d go for long walks outside.

“When [Cynthia] came along and gave Mom a cart to push around and some files to hold, it just made her feel useful and important,” says Dawn. “I think that’s something we all need.”

Delgado enjoys the company and says that whenever she thanks Marj for helping her, Marj smiles and says, “Oh, no, you’re helping me!”

“I bring her with me, hold her hand, and give her stuff to carry,” Delgado says. “She feels responsible, and feels like she’s doing something. She loves to walk, so when I get her to help me she’s happy because she doesn’t like to sit still.”

Dawn and her family appreciate the work of all the staff at St. Teresa Place, but they feel especially lucky to have found Delgado, and they know Marj feels the same.

“It’s so nice to know that when we can’t be here, there’s someone looking out for her,” says Dawn. “It brings comfort. We all know that Mom is special, but to have someone else recognize it, and know that she still has so much left to offer, even though she has dementia, it’s really comforting.” [ ]