My inspiration to begin blogging actually began with the old folks. More specifically, it began with the death of one of my residents.
In a world this chaotic I try to remember the good things. I recently began working in Assisted Living. Initially intended purely as nursing experience, meant to fill my time and my wallet (ever-so-slightly), it has become the most dynamic, keep-me-on-my-toes job experience that I can recall. As I accumulate a small stash of memorable moments, experiences and anecdotes, I feel compelled to not only record them, but to share them as well. Some days are hard, like in the story I am about to share, but when I remember why I am there and who I am helping, it all feels so right.
A few days ago, Lynn died. She had been my resident for as long as I had worked at Sunrise, three months in all. It is surprising to me that it could hurt so much after only knowing her for such a short span of time. But one thing I have learned from my time at Sunrise is that care giving is an intimate business.
I grew close to Lynn within days. Probably her most memorable trait is her ability to look at almost anything pessimistically. In a very endearing way. Her health, her dog’s health, the food at Sunrise, the mail that she receives, the tall pile of books that she has yet to read (though she reads nonstop), the plant that came in the mail that was clearly doomed to die: everything. Maybe it is because she was old that it seemed and sounded so cute. More than anything, she loved her dog, Maggie. An incredibly overweight black terrier, Maggie is sweet and always by Lynn’s side which makes an adorable impression when she sits beside Lynn while she is wearing one of her 7 pairs of terrier pajamas. Fairly independent, Lynn didn’t need my help for much. She had survived a rough bout of cancer and fought a battle to survive (even though she wasn’t sure that she wanted to) and recovered so fully that she could get around at 83 with only a 4-pronged cane.
I gave her a hydro every Sunday. I remember feeling so nervous to give my first hydro and I now know that I was lucky to have Lynn to guide me. She created an easy and pleasant experience. It soon became an hour where I could ignore the chatter in my walkie, and draw the steamy bath water instead. We both loved the bubbles. Just before she passed, one of her relatives had gifted her an economy size bottle of Sweet Pea bubble bath, knowing how often she used it. During the hydro I only washed Lynn’s back; she could do the rest. But my presence was essential to the process of the hydro because she talked the entire time. I wish I could include a transcript of one of our conversations but it mostly involved my nodding, shaking my head, and empathizing with things I didn’t always completely hear. I usually understood about 1 word in 3 since the rushing torrent of bath water muffled her voice dramatically. At first I would ask her to repeat herself until I actually heard but then I realized that I was just interrupting her flow and what she really enjoyed was having someone to talk to. So I listened, soon realizing how much I enjoyed doing just that because even though it felt like doing nothing, it was truly doing something.
When she died I was initially distraught. It seemed to me that she was cheated out of valuable years of life. 83 may sound old but it is not in all people and Lynn still was young in many respects. Yet, I learned that when she first came to Sunrise, she told everyone that she was ready to die. She had just survived cancer and was coming to live in a place that she didn’t think of as home. The bulk of her unhappiness stemmed from the fact that she could no longer care for herself. By the time I came around, she had recovered sufficiently to do most things on her own, an incredible feat. Her strength was impressive and demonstrated that Lynn would not be happy watching her body grow weaker day by day. After her fall, a few days before her death, it became clear that she could not longer function so independently. Maybe this is when Lynn decided that it was the end. She died peacefully, without pain and without giving up her cherished independence.
*All names of all residents are changed*