It’s hard to say exactly why the friendship blossomed – their obsession with journaling or something more fundamental, joy in each other’s company. Regardless of the reason, the friendship between 21-year-old Ashley Schmitz and Monarch Meadows resident Kären (pronounced Caron) Madsen has deepened over the past year.
Now 86, Kären has been journaling since she was 12. The shelves in her apartment are jammed with journals, some leather-bound others paperback. “I discovered she also does a journal,” says Kären, referring to Ashley. “Because I’m now blind, I can’t really write anything pretty. I have a lot of empty journals that I saved for pretty writing, but I can’t do it anymore.”
Kären gave her blank journals to Ashley, when macular degeneration took her remaining vision, after a 16-year progression. Ashley was a Monarch Meadows caregiver at the time.
“I remember coming in here and she wanted me to read from her journals,” Ashley recounts. “That’s where the reading started – she wanted to remember things that she’d once written.”
Ashley’s an on-call staffer at Monarch Meadows now while she pursues a degree in psychology at Minnesota State University at Mankato. She still finds time to visit Kären frequently, where their reading has evolved to poetry – one of the sources of joy in Kären’s life.
During our visit, Ashley was reading Lewis Carroll’s The Walrus and the Carpenter. The poetry of Sylvia Plath is also among Kären’s favorites, as are talking books from the Library of Congress. “I’ve read Eleanor Roosevelt’s autobiography,” Kären reports.
“I learn a lot from Kären,” says Ashley. “It’s really awesome when I can use my resources to help her have some joy. Sometimes a poem will jar a memory, or she’ll think of a song. Luckily I can find the lyrics or other poems on my phone.” Monarch Meadows senior living community in North Mankato offers 86 one-and-two-bedroom assisted living apartments and 12 care suites, providing 24-hour continuous senior care. Monarch is known for its Wednesday, Breakfast in the Meadow, welcoming family members and visitors to stop by for a warm breakfast.