I was thinking today of how would I perform the taking care of others, not of my family, that need sustained care and dignity. It is hard at times for those you love. It is assumed it is a given by those you hire to care for your loved ones.
I do not intend to besmirch any one working in care facilities. Early in my adult life, I had occasion to visit over crowded ‘old folks homes’ in the middle of the night. One or two women, not nurses or CNA’s, worked at night tending to dozens of older folks. What I saw at night at a young age is still etched in my brain. It was wrong. But, it was what it often was back then regardless of the facility I visited in the middle of the night. Dark, spooky, unsightly images, heart wrenching sounds. Then, it all made me turn away to the task at hand, which was usually to await for someone to arrive, to remove a dead resident. It did not occur to me what any of those women employees felt, thought, or did in those places….until recently.
I got a strong taste of it in 2009/2010 as my mom was moved into our home. Under the hospice umbrella she had a few weeks, maybe two months to live. She was to die inside our home. My wife and I took on this responsibility as a matter of course. We had no clue. The weeks turned into many months. Eventually, around the fifth month, the cancer started its’ quest in earnest. We started into a different realm of care that crossed all boundaries until the last gasping, shuttering breath was taken and slowly escaped. In looking back, we were in slow motion trauma for about a year before my mom died. We held it together. We were offered counseling. We were fine. After all we didn’t seem to be feeling anything too heavy. We seemed in control. The routine of waiting was established and in the end, we tightened and tensed and geared up as my mom geared down.
Almost simultaneously my dear aunt was also declining. And, in the end of my mom’s life, we came into the care of her sister. A transition seems obvious, but it blended all together. Sisters bound in age, loneliness, hoarding, abusive upbringings, fiercely independent. We were there to serve.
But this is a journey with little guidance THAT HAS REGISTERED for us. Hospice counselors were there and said what to expect. It did not register. Grief counselors spoke in monotone voices and discussed the many steps of grief. Yes, I had read those countless times. Denial, Anger, etc. yes. But, will I see it, feel it, recognize those steps? We were flat, exhausted, amotional.
I have no answer for you now. One of us, my wife, dutifully served my mom and serves my aunt today. All the while she looks away and puts on the brave, happy face as she ignores what this portends for her elder parents and her, in the years ahead.
For me, after years of mental/visual assaults upon my psyche, I have a sludge of buildup that does not seem to allow for the healthy flow of emotions. Pandora’s Box will not be opened. To do so, a greater risk it seems than muddling through day by day to the obvious ends. But, don’t I owe myself and those that care for me more?
So, I thought what the hell, I will research a little today as I rehab from doing too much yesterday…about the education of those that work in adult foster care. What do they learn in order to cope and provide care for elders with compassion and dignity. I didn’t find much. Most of it was geared toward the elder finding proper care. I then got side tracked with some education program (Project Wisdom) with character development at its core for kids. And, really in the end it (many of the words) resonated with all I have ever believed or been taught to be. Nothing fancy. Nothing clinical. Just a bedrock of words that either work or they don’t:
“The values fostered by Project Wisdom include: Caring, Civility, Citizenship, Compassion, Confidence, Cooperation, Courage, Diligence, Education, Empathy, Fairness, Forgiveness, Golden Rule, Gratitude, Honesty, Human Dignity and Worth, Human Excellence, Integrity, Kindness, Love, Love of Learning, Nonviolence, Conflict Resolution, Patience, Patriotism, Perseverance, Positive Attitude, Positive Work Ethic, Prudence, Respect, Responsibility, Individual and Social Service to Others, and Tolerance.”
“In a school committed to developing character, these core values are treated as a matter of obligation, as having a claim on the conscience of the individual and community. Character education asserts that the validity of these values, and our responsibility to uphold them, derive from the fact that such values affirm our human dignity, promote the development and welfare of the individual person, serve the common good, meet the classical tests of reversibility (i.e., Would you want to be treated this way?) and universality (i.e., Would you want all persons to act this way in a similar situation?), and inform our rights and responsibilities…” Project Wisdom
Just words? clichés? Or, in the end, the bedrock for civility, duty and love? It will help carry me along, for awhile. Those words I highlighted in yellow resonate today and most often. Always have.