This is not my normal blog style but when my friend Sean shared with me the story of his mother’s death I was so grateful to hear how much his family appreciated the caregivers that I asked him to share it with you. He told me how deeply his brothers were affected at the moment the caregivers expressed their love for his mother. What surprised his siblings was that the paid caregivers loved his mom so much and they hadn’t expected it nor considered such an outpouring of love.
Many people are surprised at the level of love shared with their family member by staff in senior communities. I think that the label of professional often implies boundaries that exclude emotion. But in senior communities, professionals are caring for seniors in such intimate ways that being vulnerable and open are to some degree requirements to do the job well. Public opinions about caregivers are often leaning towards the negative and have an element of fear. Sharing stories like Sean’s can help people see the beauty in the profession of providing care.
The anonymous caregiver by Sean Daly
My wife and I received the call at 4am with the news. My mom had been placed on hospice a month earlier, and now her breathing had altered. We quickly changed and headed down to the care facility that she called home. I resisted the idea that she had aspirated and had pneumonia and that, most likely, she would never return to health. When we arrived I found a faceless, nameless, caregiver standing by her side like a daughter might. I felt ashamed that I didn’t know the woman who so closely attended to my mom, this comfortable looking, heavyset, Hispanic caregiver with a solemn look on her face. She was just one of the many workers who had cared for my mother’s needs over the last 18 months, many of who I knew, but I didn’t know this one. Like all of them, she helped my mom out bed in the morning, dressed her, bathed her, fed her, and then returned her to her room in the evening.
My mom’s eyes were closed and her head lay back in the pillow positioned as if looking up at the ceiling. She looked agitated and in pain. It was shocking to see my mom breathing so quickly. With a mixture of embarrassment and gratitude I thanked the caregiver whose name I didn’t know. My wife, who is in the health care business, asked the questions.
“What is her temperature? How long has she been in distress? When did you first see her like this? “ I stood in the background feeling helpless.
“On the bed checks,” she said, and she felt my mom’s forehead. My mom’s breathing rate and fever confirmed what I had feared. My mom was in the process of dying, a process I had never witnessed, nor knew anything about. That day I went to work but later in the evening her situation had deteriorated. She had been given morphine to reduce her pain which manifest itself in the rapid breathing. I called my brothers and let them know that they needed to come if they wanted to see mom again. In the mean time I sat by her side, talking to her, holding her hand, as she started, what was to become a four day journey. The caregivers of course would arrive; pop their heads in to check on “Breda” with equal amounts love for her and empathy for me. I always welcomed their arrival. Often they offered me food or something to drink. Every few hours, two lovely little Mexican women would ask me politely to leave. I would step outside in the breeze way, and like a fly on the wall, I’d watch the other caregivers attend to the residents. I saw them prepare food, participate in activities, clean up, all while the caregivers “freshened up” my mom. This usually meant they would change her position, brush her hair, and add a new cold towel on her forehead. The love they poured was not just into a job, but into my mother. The woman who immigrated with my dad, raised four boys, put us through college, and then helped raise our own kids. When they left I waited in the room for my brothers to arrive from all over the world.
Once we were all together we hung around her bed, telling stories and laughing, but we felt relieved when one of the staff members, most of whom we didn’t know, would arrive and shoo us out so they could do their job. They were professional yet loving. They understood the gravity of the situation, and entered the sacred space with a real sensitivity while performing their jobs barely above minimum wage I would guess. When the time came closer they asked if they could come and say their “good-byes”. This moment was charged with so much emotion that I, along with my three brothers, either left, or looked away as they blessed my mom, made the sign of the crossover her, or some other personal devotion. Finally, they left the room and in their wake left such an appreciation for the service they provided, something which you can’t place a value on. They even helped prepare us for what was to come.
To read more by Sean Daly please find him at: http://sean-daly.blogspot.com/