As a caregiver, I cut my teeth on first shift memory care. For years that was my world. Fast paced, short staffed and unpredictable, first shift was nonstop action. I remember thinking it was ridiculous that there was a pay differential for third shift. After all, there work load was so much lighter than ours. It just didn’t seem fair. I thought along the same lines about private care. One client? How hard could it be? Why were they paid so much more than those of us in facilities? Their job was a cake walk in comparison. Of course, at the time I had no experience with private care or third shift but it seemed like common sense to me. I was wrong.
Contempt prior to investigation. My thinking at the time can best be described by that simple concept. And we are all guilty of that from time to time; Viewing people, events, and moments solely through the lens of our individual perception without the benefit of direct knowledge. If the past few years have taught me anything, it is that the remedy for such thinking is actual experience.
Private care was not easy street. In many ways, it was much more challenging for me than working in a facility. Sure, I occasionally lamented the pace and amount of work we had to accomplish on first shift in my facility, but truth be told, that is when I’m at my best. It was harder for me to pull back and refocus my energy than I expected. The hours were long and it was difficult for me to set work boundaries without the guidance of an agency. It could be very lonely and at times I felt very isolated. The flow of the shift was entirely based on other people’s moods and level of pain. There were also amazing aspects of private care. I loved the family. All of them. I loved the freedom of working independently and having the time to really get to know my client. I loved being involved in bringing holidays back into the house and making her laugh. I loved the deeper connections I was able to forge because my focus wasn’t split eight ways to Sunday. That also made it very hard to leave when a new opportunity arose. My two year journey into private care has enriched my experience in this field and added skills, abilities and insight into my work that I would not have gained had I not taken that path for a little while.
Though I’ve only just begun my jaunt into third shift, I’ve already made some realizations. I understand why they offer a shift differential now. It’s true that the work load is much lighter but that is all I was right about. When I worked first shift, I ran hard. I bled for the job, but when I clocked out for the day I was able to leave work at work. For the most part, anyway. Not so on third. So much of my time in the day is spent trying to effectively work sleep into my schedule so I can be awake and alert through my shift that even when I’m not at work, I’m thinking about work. Or thinking about sleep. And everything else has to be worked in between those two things. The extra money isn’t about what happens on the clock. It’s about the willingness to rearrange life off the clock in order to work when the worlds asleep. It’s about the toll that takes on your mind and body. Sad to say, I would not have connected the dots on that had I never taken this position.
So I am very glad my experience in this field has evolved and hope it will continue to do so. These experiences will remind me not to engage in the “shift wars”. We do not need to tear each other down, ESPECIALLY without having the first clue as to what it’s like from first hand experience. I consider it a lesson well learned.
You recognized me when I came through the door on Christmas. You saw me and knew my name and knew that I loved you. For that I am happy, because I know the time is coming when I will look wistfully back on this holiday season and be grateful that I have that memory.
A rush of emotions flooded me as I stepped into the warm and welcoming home that has been the back drop for so many moments of my life. Suddenly, I was eleven and so excited because you were moving right down the street from me! I was fifteen and sitting with you as the family walked with my uncle through his last days. You were so strong without sharp edges. I was seventeen and didn’t have a date to the prom. You told me I was beautiful. You told me to just wait, that I would grow into myself. I was nineteen and lost. There you were, with love. Always believing in me despite my very best efforts to prove to the world I was a waste of time. I was twenty-three and heartbroken. You said what was meant to be will be.
I was twenty-six and in a dark place. You were there. I was in the grips of alcoholism. I was the worst version of myself and you refused to see that. In your eyes, I was still your girl. Some would argue that you were my biggest enabler. I suppose there is truth to that but you were also my biggest supporter. You cheered for me when I had nothing for which to cheer.
We lost Pop during that time in my life. Your husband of nearly sixty years; your best friend. I couldn’t be there for you like I should have been. He didn’t get to see the woman I finally grew into. I will always regret that. You? You soldiered on, despite the overwhelming grief I know you felt.
I was thirty-two. Dying inside and out. There was nothing you could do to “fix” me. I had to get help. I had to try something different and I was so scared. You said I could do this. I was thirty three and picked up a year sober. I called you and you were so proud. I could hear it in your voice and for once I felt that I earned it. I didn’t get to see you enough but we talked on the phone so regularly that I felt you were close. I was a caregiver and you said that it was a natural fit. I blew a whistle on a facility and you were not surprised. I was writing again and you said I could do whatever I put my mind to in life.
I was thirty-five and not having luck in the dating scene. You said be patient. You said I miss you. Come visit. But I didn’t have a car at the time and my work schedule was so hectic. These things were true but I should have made a way. I could tell you were having slips in memory. You said it was the price of a long life. It didn’t seem that bad. I was thirty-six. You were dancing at my brothers wedding. I was thirty-eight and took the bus down for Thanksgiving. I noticed the difference by then.
At some point, I stopped calling to seek guidance for my life and started calling to make sure that you were alright. I can’t pinpoint when that change took place. It was a subtle thief that robbed me of my confidant, my advisor, my rock while I wasn’t paying attention. Those phone calls became more and more difficult. I could hear your loneliness and confusion. You get angry. Eight years of taking care of people professionally and I couldn’t seem to do a single thing to help the woman who has taken care of me for so much of my life.
I am forty. But in your house I am forever a little girl. You used to get better when you had family around but that time has passed. You recognize me and you know that I love you. That has to be enough now. I know that but I don’t feel that. You’re alive and yet I am grieving the moments I can never get back and regret the time that I missed. The unconditional love that you graced me with and the closeness we have always shared is irreplaceable. My life without you in it just doesn’t make sense and despite everything I’ve learned from working in this field, I can’t imagine letting go.
You’ve always been the heart of our family, the glue that holds us together. You’ve been the strength and the sounding board. You’ve raised sons into extraordinary men and have grandchildren and great-grandchildren and every one of us adore you. I will carry all of your stories and hold onto the memories for you. You are always always with me and I will try to live up to the faith you always placed in me. I will try to make you proud.
Always your little girl,