Most workplaces want their employees to leave their personal drama at home and come to work with a positive mindset. This is especially true of a CNA. We are reminded frequently to “leave your baggage at the door and smile as you enter.” I have always taken a small measure of pride in how efficient I can be at packing my emotional “bags” and leaving them to wait until the end of my shift like suitcases piled up on a hotel bellhop’s trolley.
Suitcases are all zippers, straps and heavy nylon materials these days. I remember when suitcases were made of a hard substance and had snapping locks that required both hands to open or close them simultaneously. If such a suitcase had too many items stuffed in it, the thing would spring open letting loose all of its contents for everyone to see.
My mother-in-law passed away about 6 weeks ago unexpectedly. She was like another mother to me and I love her fiercely. Due to a series of uncontrollable circumstances, I couldn’t go to her funeral. I find myself grieving every day since. Some days are harder than others but like the good CNA I am, I pack the grief neatly in my suitcase and leave it waiting for me in the parking lot while I tend to my elderly residents.
One of the residents I care for regularly has severe Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t know who her children are when they visit, most days she can’t remember how to walk and she can no longer chew or swallow food. The other day the gnawing pain of my mom-in-law’s death was eating away at my spirit. Ruth (not her real name) was sitting in her wheel chair quietly humming and watching me finish up some paperwork while the other residents were at supper. After I finished my work, I knelt down next to her so we were at eye level. I asked “How are you, Ruth?”
“I’m fine. You are sad,” she replied.
I didn’t know what to say back to her. My mind was racing, trying to think of something that would have meaning to her and I settled on the truth. I said, “Yes, I am sad.”
“Because I miss my mommy.”
“She died.” Ruth said as a matter of fact, nodding her head knowingly.
Ruth stretched out her hands and gently started to stroke my hair while tears started welling up in my eyes.
She stared intently into my eyes and with her hands still stroking my hair whispered ever so softly, “you are loved”.
The tears ran freely down my cheeks and I found myself resting my head in her lap while she continued gently stroking my hair and whispering “you are loved” over and over. My suitcase packed with grief and regret unwillingly sprang open for Ruth to see and she responded with love. While I cried she comforted me in a way only a mom knows how.
I’m not sure how long we stayed like that, only a few minutes probably. Time seemed to suspend itself for us. I felt loved and cared for in that small moment. I will never forget what happened between us while Ruth’s mind already has let it go. I like to think her spirit remembers when we quietly folded my grief with love and repacked it in my suitcase minus a few tears allowing it to close even if for just a little while.