Around 6 months ago, after becoming to attached to a client, I decided to leave my job as a carer for the elderly. The particular couple I had become close to both deteriorated at a very fast rate. Mr K was a rare breed, a gentlemen, kind, caring and had a fantastic sense of humour, his wife spent her time knitting little bags for my daughter ( which sadly she refused to use as they smelt of “old people”) and shouting across the room to her husband whilst tutting and “whispering” to me how hard of hearing he had become, I never had the heart to tell her she was way more hard of hearing then he was….
I saw Mr K go from a bubbly man to a shell in a hospice, but I will never forget him. It was a few weeks after he passed away that I woke one morning and had, what I now know was burn out. I physically could not get out of bed, the thought of seeing another client, of having to wash, dress, clean someone was horrific to me, and so I had to leave the job.
Fast forward 6 months, after trying my hand at a few office jobs, I came to the realisation that I needed to go back to being a carer. This is where my strengths lie and a part of me was missing, so this time I have made sure systems are in place (supervision, time out etc) to make sure I do not have a repeat of last time.
There are some things I have learnt from working with the elderly, and I call them the two types, the two types of elderly people and the two types of families, and both the two types go hand in hand.
The first type are the people with pictures of smiling grandchildren, (and great children) plastered over their walls, they are the ones who will have a sweet bowl on the table and command you to eat sweets before you leave, they are the ones who are clean, well presented, who feel they have something to live for, these people have the first type of family to, these families are the ones who will call whilst you are there, even though they have spoken to their parent a few minutes before to ensure everything is ok, they are the type who will take out Mum or Dad for a walk, to the shops, they are the type who will pop in every day or every other day, they are the type who will send in a week’s worth of meals in little plastic containers, neatly labelled which day and meal they are for, they are the type who will speak to their parents dr, nurse, carer, cleaner on a regular basis. They are the type who care.
The second type are the ones that make me sad, the type of are sitting, waiting, waiting to die. They may sit all day and night in one room, they may refuse to have a wash or put on clean clothes, they may seem to you to be bitter, but really they are hurting and all they want, all they have given up on is someone to show that they care. They may have an odd photo of their husband/wife who passed away many years ago, they may have his/her clothes still in the wardrobe, unable to part with the only person who ever cared. Most shockingly they may have children, who have decided that the person who gave birth to them, the person who cooked, cleaned, cared for and raised them are now a burden. In one instance, I met a lady who was completely alone in the world, to the extent that on her next of kin sheet it said in bold letters “FAMILY DO NOT WANT TO BE CONTACTED” when I first read that, I could not stop the tears.
From my teenage years, I have always had an affinity with the elderly, I find people of a certain age and over fascinating, to hear about a life we can only imagine, to learn about the struggles of fleeing a war zone, to listen to the songs of the past, to have the honour of looking after a gentlemen who has received his 100 year telegram from the queen is a privilege I am lucky to have.
My aim with this blog today is to remind us, one day we will all be old, (and by the way, never complain about getting old…it is a privilege denied to many) we can look at our children and wonder, will they take care of me? or will they leave me in my old age.
I take my inspiration from my own parents, I remember my grandfather, who lived with us for many many years after my grandmother passed away, walking past a nursing home, and saying to my parents “that looks like a jail, and it is a jail”!!, letting my parents know in no uncertain terms what he thought of a nursing home! My parents gave up on holidays, on rest and a lot more, but it was never thought of that my grandfather would not live with us.
obviously we all not all able to do what my parents did, we may not have a big enough home, or other reasons why our elderly parents can not live with us, but lets not forget them. Let them not be the forgotten. Our elderly parents should be the first priority when looking after people. Our parents have given their lives to look after us, and we at one point hopefully will be able to show them just what they mean to us.
Lots of love