I work in a retirement home. It’s nice. The average age is 84 and the residents are wonderful. I hated it at first because it is such an exhausting job,emotionally, but as time has gone by I have learned to truly like it. Like many children from hard places, I have a hard time allowing myself to become emotionally involved–caring doesn’t come easy and is something I have to diligently work to achieve. Every day I go to work, not only do I do the work which is required but also have the opportunity to work on the emotional piece and learning to care. It’s been a big blessing to me. In the time that I have worked here I have seen many people come and go. We recently lost one resident whom battled a long few years of physical/emotional pain. Her only dream was to dance, even at 98 years old. She was beautiful on the inside but she was crumbling on the outside. It was difficult to watch as other residents began to sink away, because she started to look sick. She is missed. She is the first, and only, resident of all the residents who have gone that I have had any emotion towards. I was mostly frustrated that she was moved in her last days to a place of unknown and left to die without her most prized possession, but still the concern was there. I pride myself in that because it was real. The frustration I had for her wasn’t a lie.
Tonight, however, I saw the real difference allowing that concern can make. There is a resident who moved in not too long ago. Like me, she had a pretty rough childhood. She saw more unthinkable things, and lost more people, at such a young age than many will ever see in a lifetime. Because of this, she is one resident that I’ve taken fancy to. Dementia, many times, causes its patient to revert back to younger years. That paired with having to move to a new place, alone, proved to be too much for her. She, for a long while, sat in a place of abandonment and fear that no one in the community understood. My supervisor, my coworkers, and my boss became agitated and disgusted by her antics. They started seeing her as manipulative and passive. People of the community who tried to reach out to her started to pull back. None of them understood and it only shut her down more. After about a month of her living in the community they started to lose hope and their frustration rapidly grew. One day I went in to bring her to lunch and she couldn’t go. She was emotionally lost and crying, in a state of fear. She didn’t like where she was and felt like she had no control. The feelings of abandonment came back full force. Knowing her pain and fear I skipped my lunch break and sat with her. In her request that I leave I pushed deeper into her past, revealing the depth of her abandonment issues. She talked to me about what the things that happened to her made her feel. She was holding back tears and I told her to just cry and then I started talking to her about my life. Though it’s against the rules, I let her in on my loss and my trauma and my understanding of the abandonment. I talked to her about my years in foster care and my life now, without a family. I let her know that I understood how alone she felt and even more-so because no one in this community understood, because no one had lived it. After about 30 minutes she had calmed down enough and agreed to eat something after a while and I left, returning to my schedule. Every day since then, I’ve made it a goal to check in with her and many nights she is still down and in a place of abandonment. Her answer never changes, though she has started to join the community in activities and for meals. Tonight was no different. I knocked on her door to tell her goodnight, as I do every night I’m there, and asked how her day was. She replied, “not so good.” In which I responded, “same as usual?” and she said yes, that she doesn’t like being here. I told her that I understand but that I think she is doing a fabulous job adjusting. She broke down in sobs and hugged me. Between her sobs she thanked me for being there and for helping her through this transition. What broke my heart was that she said that I was the only person on our staff that had made her feel okay about her struggle and that I was the most helpful in the community to her transition. What a break through. What a blessing to receive in such times of struggle myself.
I don’t want to be like her when I grow old. I don’t want to have my abandonment issues re-surface. I don’t like to see this beautiful woman struggle every day, just as I do, to find her place in this world. Many times I go to work and I am mirrored through her. The fear I feel of not being worthy enough, of not having control, of not being loved. The loss of family, of friends, of home. The terror in realizing that no one around really understands your struggle. The agony of not understanding what is happening. Everyday, I see myself in her…and I worry. I see her good side too and that’s the woman I want to be. The strong, brave, dedicated, beautiful, talented woman. Even through her struggle, this woman is my inspiration because she is fighting. She is working through her issues. And she is adjusting beautifully.