Category Archives: death

Time Marches On

 

 

Lynn

One of the things I like about working in Long Term Care (LTC) is the relationships we develop with residents over time. We get to know our residents almost as well as we know our own families, sometimes even better than we know our own families.  This is also one of the things I don’t like about working in LTC.  After Death takes a resident and an empty space is all that is left.  The resident’s bed is empty, where they used to sit in the dining room is empty; there is a sense of emptiness throughout the building and that emptiness can be deafening.

The worst part of a death is the silence that accompanies the emptiness. Their names aren’t mentioned in the daily reports and are removed from the care lists. Their special dietary slips aren’t printed anymore. The name on the door is gone. Their old pictures and cards are missing from the walls of their room.  Their chart is put into storage. The existence of that person is wiped away from the white board of LTC life.

There is a poem called “Funeral Blues” written by W.H. Auden.  The first line of the first stanza comes to mind when that special person leaves with Death: “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.” I desperately want the clocks to stop and the phone to stop ringing.  I want time to stand still for 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour.  I want to stop moving, to stop marching forward with time and grieve over the awful silent void left by my special resident’s departure.  But clocks don’t stop. Phones keep ringing because the living can’t wait and time marches on.  

Funeral Blues 
W. H. Auden
 
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, 
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West.
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good. 

 

Honorary Grandparents

 May

In compliance with HIPAA, all resident names and identifying details have been altered. Also, this story did not happen recently.

It’s always strange, coming back to work after extended time off. . .anything longer than a three day weekend. I always seem to think that I’ll lose some skills (or worse, speed) when I come back. I’m not sure where I acquired this idea, nor why I hold onto it.
On the one hand, nothing changes while you’re gone: there’s still too many residents and not enough aides. The work doesn’t change. On the other hand, a lot can change in almost a week. One resident can pass away, another could fall. Mr. J can change from being a standing lift to a hoyer. The residents with more advanced dementia can forget me entirely, others assume the worst from my absence.

Take Mrs. N for example. As soon as she opens her eyes and sees me standing by the foot of her bed, an expression of pure relief floods her face.
“May, you’re back! Did you decide not to abandon us after all?” she asks, grasping my hands as soon as I set her tray down at her beside table.
I’m still worn out from the week I’ve has, so I convey my confusion about her inquiry with an ineloquent but effective syllable: “Huh?”
“You left us,” she says reproachfully. “But I suppose I can forgive you as long as you don’t quit again and leave me.”
“Quit?” I repeat. This is the first I’ve heard about a change in my employment status. “Honey, I didn’t quit.”
“You were gone for so long! And you didn’t tell me goodbye, or say you wouldn’t be here for a while.”
“It wasn’t that long,” I protested.
“It was forever!” she insists, still clinging to my hand. “Well, if you didn’t quit, where did you go?”
I thought I’d be stronger…but then again, how would I know? I’ve never been in this position before. All I know is that now I’m crying again. Sometimes it feels like the tears will never stop, that the pain will never dull.
“I had to bury my grandmother,” I sob out; then Mrs. N pulls me down beside her and holds me until I stop crying.
“Sorry,” I sniffle.
She waves her hand at this, dismissing my embarrassment like so much nonsense. As she looks at me with sympathy, I can see a thought forming behind her eyes. It seems to grow until she can shape into words and says, in a soft, hesitant tone: “Can I be your grandmother now?”
And once again, I get choked up. I pride myself over my command of words, but none will come now and so I just nod my head vigorously, and grip her hands tightly.

The bonds that form between caregiver and resident are often deep. We see each other at our very best, at our worst and every mood in between; we pour so much of ourselves into each other. I am still a girl without a grandma, still hurting from that loss. But it helps, in a way I couldn’t have imagined, to have so many of my residents glad of my return, and willing to share in my grief.
I seem to have a lot of honorary grandparents.

Life is better when it has a purpose

Sunflower May

“I wish I could die.”
“Don’t say that!” These words are a knee-jerk reaction, an involuntary verbal response to the five words I dread most as a CNA.
“But it’s the truth,” Mrs. T replies. “I hate this…this shadow of a life that I am reduced to now. I hate being utterly useless, a drain on society and a burden for my family.”
“You aren’t useless,” I say, a bit savagely. I defend my residents’ humanity to the rest of the world, must I defend it to my residents themselves? “Really, you aren’t useless. Nobody is useless, not even people who are truly helpless…which you aren’t quite, my dear.”
But apparently, my words do not comfort Mrs. T. “Of course you don’t understand,” she sighs. “You’re young. You may have known doubt, uncertainty about what to do with your life…but feeling useless, having to sit in a wheelchair while you remember everything you used to with your time and talents…you don’t know what that feels like. I hope you never feel like you’ve outlived everything good about your life.”
I can’t help but remember all the times us CNAs have debated quality of life, wondering if our residents are truly happy with the little scraps of humanity we’re able to keep for them.
“I wish I lived in a state that has right to die laws,” Mrs T continues. “Oh, don’t screw up your face like that, little girl: I have the right to wish myself free from pain. I’m never getting better, so that means wishing myself dead! And if you really cared about me, you wouldn’t want me to have to linger like this, useless and in pain. Life is better when it has a purpose and I don’t have one anymore. You don’t know how much that hurts…even worse than the physical pain.”
That’s going to far for me: I would never dare tell somebody how they should feel, but I expect the favor to be returned. “What kind of caregiver would I be if I wished you gone? If I didn’t believe that your life right now has value? And you’re not useless: you make me smile. I love coming in your room and never knowing what the heck is gonna come out your mouth!” This current conversation being the exception, perhaps…
Mrs. T smiles a bit herself at that, a weak and rather watery smile, but the best one I’ve seen on her all day. “I’m sorry, but after a lifetime of doing real, tangible good for my community…making one person smile seems like such a small thing.”
“Excuse me,” I say frostily, “but my happiness is a huge thing…to me.”
That startles a laugh out of her. We laugh together, and if a few of the tears rolling down our checks are born of something besides mirth…well, who can blame us? I hate these conversations: there’s no right thing to say. If I agree with her, I’m saying that I think the world is better off without her—something I most vehemently do not believe.
If I disagree, I’m denying her the validity of her feelings of pain and grief for the life she can no longer live. And I’d be lying if I said that the thought of me being in her position doesn’t fill me with dread.
“Look,” I say eventually, “I can’t—I can’t pray for you to die. I just can’t. But I can…I can pray for you to find peace, in whatever form takes.”
“That’s a good prayer,” Mrs. T murmurs. “And, since I’m stuck here as our state does not have right-to-die laws…if my new purpose in life is to enrich your life, honey, you’d better make damn sure your life is good one. You make something of yourself, little girl, for my sake. Deal?”
Since becoming a CNA, my feelings about quality of life and the right to die have morphed dramatically. On the one hand, I’ve seen the beauty of life shining through the most debilitating circumstances. I’ve seen human dignity when society saw only brokenness.
On the other, I’ve seen pain needlessly prolonged because the family could not bring themselves to let go, long after the resident was ready to go. I’ve seen unbearable suffering dragged out, a natural death that stretched on for days and weeks. When the end finally came, there was no grief, only relief that the pain was over for everyone.

I suppose I wish for peace for all my residents, peace in their last years and in their final breaths. Peace, as I’ve learned, is not always the complete absence of pain, but at least I wish for my residents to meet their ends without agony or anguish.
Whatever else I may believe, that, as Mrs. T said, is a good prayer.

 

A Matter of Death and Life

DSC00999

 

 

Yang

The subject of death comes up often in this line of work. On this blog, Alice and May have visited it on more than one occasion. They have shared how they experienced losing residents they’ve known and cared for, and how they cope with the deep sense of personal loss. These experiences and feelings are echoed every single day in the hallways of LTC facilities and on social media. Death and loss are realities that all caregivers have to deal with at some point. For some, it becomes too much to bear and they leave the field.

Death is also at the heart of the negative public perception of nursing homes. The term itself, nursing home, evokes images of forsaken and forgotten souls, a place where we “stick” people when they are no longer of any use and we don’t want to be bothered with what’s left of them. That even facilities that offer good care and where the residents seem content, are still essentially gilded human warehouses, nice places to go and wait for the inevitable. Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Those of us who work in direct care know that the reality is not quite that dreary. While we can be the staunchest critics of the nursing home industry – because of what we know about the very real problems – we also know that these places are and can be so much more than just human warehouses. We know that not everyone who enters them is prepared to simply submit and waste away. That sometimes people who have experienced severe neglect on the outside can actually rally after admission. Good medical care, proper diet, therapy, and a sense of community and belonging, can go a long way in restoring a sense of wellbeing and hope. That yes, even here, life goes on.

While good care is essential, it does not address the deeper question of a meaningful existence. Here, in the final stages of life, where comfort is often regarded as the highest value and the will to live runs on sheer momentum, the question arises – and I’m going to be blunt – why bother? Why bother to go on when you no longer feel productive or useful? Why bother when you feel as though you’ve become nothing but a burden? Why bother when you’ve lost so much that you hold so dear? And the toughest question of all: why bother when the end result is going to be the same no matter what you do?

Good caregivers do all they can to address the “why bothers?” Through our awareness of our elders as individuals and by engaging them emotionally, we assure them that if nothing else, they still matter because they matter to us. We can’t give them back everything and we can’t reach everyone, but there are opportunities to make a real difference and we morally obligated to make the most of them.  

Still, there is that nagging reality always present in background, the sense of doom and meaninglessness associated with our mortality.

But we are not powerless. First, we have to reject the conventional view of aging: that the final stage of life is less meaningful than everything that comes before it. We need to embrace the idea that we can change, grow and develop right up to the end. And we must stop downgrading the intrinsic value of moments that are experienced during this stage of life. Even to the end, we can retain our capacity to be surprised or fascinated or enthralled, and to value the comic absurdity of life. And we can still lose ourselves in these moments and share them with those around us without reference to some ultimate meaning.

Second, we have to rebel against death itself. Not against its reality, but against its hold on us; against the idea that our fate to die must inform our actions and constrain how we experience life. We need not be held captive to the ego’s revulsion to nonexistence. By liberating ourselves from death’s grip on our being, we are giving ourselves permission to really live.

For our elders, it’s not enough that we tell them that life is still worth living.  Instead, as caregivers we must discover what that means to them, in the most specific, practical terms. We must facilitate and share with them, when we can, those things they find meaningful. Each time we do this, we are joining them in their rebellion against death and boldly answer the question “why bother?” And we celebrate with them one more victory in life.

The Crucible

Sunflower  May

Sometimes I swear the nursing home is secretly a crucible—with myself as the bit of iron being refined and beaten into steel. Maybe I’ll come out of this stronger, or maybe I’ll shatter under pressure. Sometimes I wonder what is being purged from my being…I know something is gone from my soul, gone or altered so fundamentally that it might as well disappeared.
What is burning in that fire? Is it only weakness, my selfishness, naïveté and arrogance or am I also losing bits of my compassion, my patience, all the soft parts of me? I feel harder, more brittle. Anger comes quickly, if I let it. I’ve seen so much ugliness, so much injustice and been dismissed so many times; I’ve learned by example how you dull the voice of your conscience. I have an edge I never had before, a sharpness where I was once fluid. I am weary in a way I wasn’t before. Sometimes it feels as though my youth has been a sacrifice. I meant to lay it on the altar for God and the ones I care for, but those ruled by greed and apathy keep trying to snatch it away for themselves. I’m tired and never far from sorrow.
Sometimes I miss the person I was before. In my years as an aide, I’ve shed so much of my innocence. Also, the time and energy I give to my work have held back my own stories. Change may come to this broken system, but not soon enough to save me from the bitter taste of burnout. Some days I can’t help but resent that. I remember one time being so frustrated and raging to my mother about the unfairness of it all; I remember she told me being a CNA had changed me, that I had both lost and gained from the experience. I asked her to give me the bad.
I never asked her how it had made me better. It wasn’t what I needed at the time: I needed to feel the cold water of my own failings…needed to remember my own flawed nature, that I wasn’t perfect or passive.
And I needed to decide for myself what I had gained.

Empathy
When there are worlds and words swirling endlessly inside your head, it’s easy to get lost inside yourself, to distance yourself from other people. I was absorbed in myself and my stories, before caregiving forced me out of my head and into the stories of others. If you can put yourself in another person’s place and feel what they are feeling, it makes care go so much better–especially if there is a barrier of communication like aphasia. I am a better storyteller now for having learned to put aside my own perspective. My stories have a depth they did not before, back when I still thought I was the center of the universe.

Faith.
I used to be so afraid of my own mortality…terrified that one day I’d be gone from this world and would have done nothing to mark my existence. I was so scared to be forgotten, until I held the hand of a dying woman and recited the Lord’s Prayer with her. She took that fear with her when she left this world. I have a confidence I didn’t have been.

Strength.

Before I was a CNA, I thought strength meant stature and a rigidity of will. I thought only the unbreakable and the bold were strong. I didn’t realize that true strength…that’s resilience, to have your heart broken and your dreams shattered and then get right back up to go again. Until I was surrounded by fellow caregivers, I did not appreciate that strength is a dance between confidence and humility: a willingness to bend when necessary and wisdom to know when to stand your ground.

Purpose.
I’m the kind of person who needs a crusade, something bigger than myself to feel satisfied with my life. I’m not content to let injustice go unchallenged or to allow the dignity of a person to be disregarded, no matter how much they “contribute” to society or how much of an “inconvenience” meeting their needs causes. Whatever other heartaches and frustrations come with it, being a caregiver has certainly given me a crusade to fill a lifetime or more.

In the end, it’s heart-breaking, life-affirming trade. Everything I am, I became…or rather I am only who I became. What I lost I surrendered, and what I gained I was given. What I have retained, that I earned.

Ghosts in the Room

Sunflower

May

So this is different. I’m become used to being a picture of a sunflower on the Internet, the unseen hands typing away on a computer…or more often than not, my iPhone between shifts and errands. Being here, at Pioneer Networks Conference is…way, way different. It’s awesome, and pretty scary. My hands are shaking so badly I’m beginning to rock the music stand holding my script. It’s part nerves…and part something else. I take my hands off the music stand and clasp them behind my back.

Smile was hard. In rehearsal, I burst into tears because that resident…that woman who sat on the commode and broke through her own aphasia to remind me to smile…she’s gone now. She died a few months ago, and that moment, that memory is so precious to me. It’s been the moment and the memory that I relive each time I think about quitting this job or this field. (Yes, even I have those moments.) And now she’s gone. She won’t ever speak again to me, won’t ever tell me to smile. And experience has taught me that in a year or so, I’m not going to remember her face. It will blur and while I will hopefully never forget her, her face will fade until one day it won’t be her face I see. I hate it, but that’s the truth.

I’m so sorry, I tell her in my mind. I’m sorry that I made you feel bad that day and I’m sorry I won’t be able to perfectly preserve your memory. I sorry HIPAA didn’t let me capture your image so I could always remember your smile, your eyes. But while the details will blur, you will always be part of me…and you’re here in this room now. I carry your ghost with me everywhere. All of us caregivers have ghosts.

I look up from my script and look out over this crowded room and I wonder…how many ghosts are here today? How many silent residents stand behind the people sitting at these table, how many lost loved ones are watching them, watching me? I’ve got well over one hundred myself. How many do they have, these people watching me?

Ok, ya’ll, I think, turning my script to how do you say goodbye? This one’s for you guys, all you ghosts filling the spaces and the hearts in this room.

Oh, boy. And I only thought the room was crowded before I remembered you were here!

The perfect world

Sunflower

May

It’s almost funny, how what people assume are the worst parts about my job actually aren’t. In some cases, such as this, it’s close to my favorite. I finish getting Mrs. L settled. She’s in so much pain that it takes me a long time to find a position she can relax in. Her body is so stiff, it’s almost a minor miracle when her arm straightens enough for her hand to grip mine.
“Thank you. I love you…but…”

The world is full of “I love you”s, and they are recorded, celebrated, memorialized. “I love you”: three of the most powerful words in any language. It’s a complete, perfect sentence: subject, verb, object. It’s a sentence that we are taught to say and react to…what we aren’t taught as often is how to react when that complete, perfect sentence continues with a qualifier.
“I love you but”.
I love you but I wish we had never met. I love you but I would never have chosen to be your friend. I’m glad you’re here but I wish I wasn’t.

I squeeze her hand carefully: not so hard that it causes her pain, not so lightly that she can’t feel it.
“It’s okay. I wish you weren’t here either…but, since you are, I’m glad I’m here as well.”
I’ve become used to this role, being the friend that nobody wants to have. Or rather, being the friend that nobody wants to have to need. After all, in the perfect world, there would be need for me. No one would lose their minds to disease, bodies would remain hale and trustworthy until death came to them peacefully. That’s not the world I live and work in. Bodies break, minds shatter; people lose themselves to disease and injury. Death walks hand-in-hand with pain.
And I’m here, in this imperfect world, just trying to make their hard way a little easier, trying to gather up as much peace for them as I can. When death comes for them, I’m there too: there to hold their hand while they struggle, there to fold their hands after they’ve gone.
I wouldn’t wish me on my worst enemy. Or rather, I wouldn’t wish the need for me on my worst enemy. And yet, I’ve become comfortable with this role: the friend you never wanted and the friend you cling to the hardest. When the need is great, so is the love.

It’s funny, how people assume the hardest parts of my job are also my least favorite. They aren’t. They are the reason I do it.

Don’t forget me

May

“Don’t forget me.”
The plea is quiet and, above all, desperate. The intensity of it tears at me; I’m gasping in the backwash of emotions. This is too much for a young person to handle…any person to handle.

A new admit came in on my group a few days ago. From the very first, it was clear that she was dying: I knew, the nurses knew, her family knew and she knew. I didn’t know this woman, I have no fond memories of her to pull on to ease the ragged edges of comfort care. To me, she’s only and always been dying.
It’s a lot to ask, for an aide and resident (and her family) to become acquainted under Death’s watching eyes. It’s stressful and emotional. Every tick of the second hand on the clock is like the reverbarations of her death knell, projected back in time. It’s a reminder that all this, and her life, is ending.
Every hour, for eight hours a day, five days a week, I go in to check, change and turn her. Lotion her dry skin, fluff her pillows, try to spoon a little thickened liquids in her cracked mouth, bring her family in coffee and snacks.
My resident hardly has strength to lift her head, but she kept trying to give me a hug and squeeze my hands. Her family never leaves her side and always remember my name.

Not to state the obvious, but this is hard. I fell hard and fast this time…didn’t really have time to fiddle-fart around, I guess. Providing end-of-life care for this dying woman is the high-light of my work day and I don’t want it to end. I also don’t want to her keep suffering.
I guess I’m just used to having more moments between the first “Hello” and that last “goodbye”.

“Don’t forgot me.”
THe words are a harsh whisper, the only thing that could squeeze though a throat clogged with a thousand goodbyes for a new friend. I’m crying…just a couple tears rolling down my cheek. I’ve learned to pack a lot of grief into a few teardrops.
“Don’t forgot me.”
She smiles. “Don’t worry, little girl, I could never forget you. Have a good day off.”

The appropriateness of black humor

Sunflower

May

It’s suddenly become very quiet in here. Laughter dies away, awkward silence chasing away the echoes. The new aide stands there, fuming and furious.
“I don’t know what you all think is so funny,” she snaps. Her anger is pitched much higher than our mirth and I wince. “Show some respect, would you? It’s not appropriate–”
“To laugh?” I ask. “To enjoy the memories of the woman we’ve all cared for? Mrs. Z was a hilarious lady and how is it not appropriate to laugh at her final joke?” Other aides around the table nod in agreement.
Taken slightly aback, the new aide blinks rapidly and tries a different approach. I’ll give her points for courage: she is most definitely not afraid to speak her mind. “You’re laughing about a dead woman. What if her family hears you?”
She’s once again interrupted, but this time it isn’t by me. The break-room door opens and in steps Mrs. Z’s daughter, as if summoned by our words. Her eyes are red, her cheeks stained with tears…and she looks blazingly angry.
Aw, hell. A part of me wonders why a family member is in the staff break-room, our safe haven from the floor–but that question is almost completely drowned by sheer panic. It’s not that I’m ashamed of what I said, it’s just that I chose the place I said it with great care..all for nothing now. Any doubt that the daughter heard our conversation is quickly laid to rest.
“What final joke?”
I seem to be voted spokesperson by the entire break-room. Well, I suppose I was the one telling the story…”Her dentures wouldn’t stay in. When I was getting her cleaned up, they kept, um, popping out whenever I’d turn my back. She always hated those dentures,” I add wistfully. Mrs Z used to spit them out any chance she’d get and I swear she would aim for me half the time.
Mrs. Z’s daughter doesn’t laugh.
She smiles. It’s kind of weak and watery, but there’s no doubt it’s genuine; the anger fades from her face. A couple rough swallows later, she speaks again.
“Sounds like Mom. Feisty to the last,” she sighs. “Did you get them to stay in? I didn’t even notice.”
A collective sigh seems to go around the break-room. Everyone looks relieved, except the new aide who mostly looks confused.
“No,” says another aide, setting down her sandwich and speaking for the first time, “she sure couldn’t. May is stubborn, but she’s no match for your mom.”
“Nobody was,” the daughter agrees. “Um, I’m just here to, um…” Her throat seems to close around her words and she just waves a hand clutched around a somewhat squished Danish. Someone must have pointed her to the break-room as having the closest microwave.
Someone stands and takes the Danish from her, popping it in the microwave. Not another word is spoken until the microwave beeps and the Danish is returned to her.
At the door, the daughter pauses. For the first time, she looks directly at the new aide who was scolding me. “Thank you for thinking of my feelings,” she says, “but Mom always preferred her jokes to be laughed at. Said it made her feel useful, to make you guys’ day a bit brighter, like she wasn’t helpless after all. I’m glad…she was able to one last time.”
The door shuts and a different silence falls on us. Most of us are furiously blinking back tears.
Finally, the aide with the sandwich turns to the new girl. “Your problem,” she says, waving the sandwich around to punctuate her words, “is that you still think grief only wears a sad face. Everybody knows May loved that lady and the only thing she’s guilty of is terrible timing. Don’t get bent out of shape and don’t tell me how to grieve my resident.”

One the most shocking things coming into long term care (or indeed any part of the medical profession) is the humor. It’s so markedly different from anything else in the outside world.
It’s often seen as calloused, disrespectful and symptomatic of a lack of compassion. While that might be the case some of the time, I’d submit that it is not the case as often as you’d think.
Humor is how we cope. It’s how we deal with what we have to see. It’s just that what we see is wildly outside the norm of American culture that our humor falls outside the normal bounds. We see bodily fluids, crumbling minds, lots of shit and death…and so our jokes reflect that.
That being said, there is a time and a place for CNA humor and in front of grieving families isn’t it. I’m just grateful the daughter understood the substance of my story and didn’t stop at the unusual surface.

Through the Looking Glass

photo

ALICE

Faded photographs mixed in with Kohl’s receipts from 2006, coupons entangled in an endless knot of wires from God only knows what appliances, empty denture cups, incense cones, wedding favors older than I am and dust everywhere; it is a journey through the house that time forgot, where the decade I am in is determined by the direction I turn my head. I am accustomed to unusual experiences and strange twists in my life, but never have I felt more like Alice in Wonderland than I have these last few weeks.
When I was caring for my client, the condition of her house and environment in which she was living was mentioned in passing. I knew about the hoarding and the state of mind of her son. It was how she ended up in NC and in my care. I knew. But I DIDN’T know. As a caregiver, I have always been of the belief that not having memories of our residents from the time “before” makes us more effective. We are able to love them where they are now, without all the scars and emotional strain that can come from a lifetime of memories. It makes it easier to meet them where they are at. Yet here I am, walking in the footsteps of her life as I inventory, catalog and pack a world of memories that are not my own.
Fifty years of living in the same house accumulates quite a lot of stuff…and dust. There she is in her cap and gown, in her wedding dress, as a child. There she is with her own children and grandchild. Love letters from WWII, mink stoles. worn and faded from days gone by, yellowed photographs and old records. I could almost hear Frank Sinatra playing in the background as I sift through the remnants of her entire life, her imprint on this Earth.
In this strange environment in an unfamiliar town doing a different kind of job, I’m walking through this house with a ghost; not the angry spectres we see in movies, but the wisps of the spirit that tie the delightful octogenarian who was in my care to the young vivacious woman in these photographs. I don’t know how many caregivers are given this opportunity. God knows it’s a new one for me. At first, I was in shock and blindly accepted it, then I was overwhelmed and wanted to run from it. Now, I am seeing beneath the wreckage to the treasure underneath.
My client was beautiful. She lived a full life and in sorting through hers, I am learning about my own. My life has been on pause as I see this journey through and as I inventory the house, I find that I am also inventorying myself. Where do I want to go? What have I learned from where I’ve been? What matters most to me? It has been a time of reflection mixed with threads of uncertainty. In getting to know the woman my client was through this experience, I am better getting to know the woman I want to be. In this detour from my life, I am forced to focus on finding a new direction. And in the face of this seemingly unending phase of constant transitions, I have no choice but to trust putting one foot in front of the other.
This whole surreal situation has also reminded me that we are so much bigger than the roles we fill. We are more than the sum total of what others see. She was my client. But now I see her as so much more than just a person for whom I cared. I see who she was when she started to who she was when she came into my life. It’s like reading a book backwards. I don’t know where this path will lead. I don’t know what I will do with the knowledge that I gain. I only know that this trip through the looking glass is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. That in and of itself makes it worthwhile.