On Mother’s Day weekend 2017, I visited my mother in her nursing home. On arrival, she greeted me with what has become a life-changing declaration:
“Oh Alida! I’m so glad you’re here. Look what they put me in. It doesn’t match!”
At the grand old age of 97, my mother had started to show her age, but she still wanted to be the well-groomed woman she had always been.
Alone in my hotel room, later that day, I reflected on my intention to photograph my mother, for what could be my last photograph of her. Her words rang in my ears, circling round and round in my head. She had always taken great pride in her appearance and obviously still did! It was light bulb moment! I was going to give her a makeover and photograph her the next day.
After her makeover, I wheeled my mother into the dining room. When the aides and residents saw her, they showered her with compliments: ‘Oh Rose! What did you do? You look wonderful! You look beautiful.’ I was inundated with requests to do the same for other residents, but I had a plane to catch.
I had one of the aides take a photograph of my mother and me - I wanted a memento of her looking refreshed and beautiful. I decided to send her a copy of it to remind her, not just of my visit, but of the day she felt beautiful.
On the flight home, I looked at the photographs of my mother. I re-lived the memory of her joyful reaction to the gift of feeling beautiful again - to being a queen again. I felt a great sense of pride.
As I studied the photographs, I began to feel that something very special had passed between us. Instinctively, I knew it was more than a daughter showing her love for her mother. It was more than a mother enjoying being pampered by her daughter. I knew it was so much more than that. The experience we’d shared was symbiotic. It was not about surface beauty, it was about a deep, inner, soul-connecting beauty, and I LOVED IT! I wanted more! I wanted to see that joy on the faces of the often forgotten women in nursing homes, and I wanted to feel that joy of giving again and again and again.
And there it was, my epiphany - my calling!
By the time the plane landed, I knew what I had to do. I had no idea how I was going to do it, but I knew my passion and my commitment to this cause would see me through.
Within two weeks of my return, I ended my career as a certified image consultant, put together a team – an assistant and a photographer – and began giving complimentary makeovers to women in nursing homes. The response was overwhelming!
Each time I touched the face of a woman, a powerful and profound connection developed. It was soft, it was quiet, it was emotionally uplifting, and for me, it was life-affirming. To the women, I became a daughter, a friend, a confidante and I relished my roles.
I quickly learned that my makeovers are a revitalizing experience; an opportunity to remember and to relive a time when the women were vibrant, vivacious, valued. I also realized that I wanted families to experience the same powerful feelings I experienced when I looked at my mother’s after-photographs. I wanted to give the women a photograph to remember the day they felt beautiful, and I wanted to give their loved ones a photograph, of what could be, the last time their mother, wife, sister felt beautiful.
For some women, the makeover experience is a contemplative one; a chance to luxuriate in silence - silence which speaks volumes. In that silence, the women and I share a deep connection that only touch can bring.
Other women relish the opportunity to chat the way only women can; to share stories of loves and laughter untold for decades. I have watched women with bowed heads and lowered shoulders grow in stature, sometimes only slightly, as their makeover progresses. Touching souls does that!
At the end of each session, women have expressed gratitude, smiling beaming smiles at their after-photos; smiles of pride, smiles of joy, smiles of memories reawakened. And they have smiled at my tears, knowing they have given to me as much as I have given to them.
That joy has inspired women who hadn’t signed up for makeovers, to sign up for future sessions. Those smiles and that uplift has led managers and activity directors to write the most profound and moving letters of gratitude. Indeed, one manager’s enthusiasm, inspired the name of my organization. When she talked about me giving her residents the opportunity to be, “a queen for a day.” I knew that was it!
Just as the 1950’s, big prize giveaway, television show made women Queen For a Day, I aim to reawaken the inner beauty of the often forgotten woman in nursing homes; to give her the prize of being ‘Queen For A Day’.