You aren’t paid very well. In fact, most of you probably aren’t even paid living wages. You are overworked and overlooked. Despite your low wages, despite the lack of recognition, you hold positions of power. You hold power over our loved ones much like teachers wield power over our children.
Our loved ones can no longer take care of themselves. Some don’t even know when they need to eat or bathe or get dressed. They may have forgotten the world outside their rooms. Many of them can no longer speak for themselves. Some may try to speak only to find they have no control over which words come out of their mouths. Many of them don’t even remember what you did to them or for them an hour ago. This gives you awesome power.
Those of us who need your help with caring for our loved ones need to be able to trust you to use that power with honesty and compassion. It is important that you understand their vulnerabilities are not weaknesses. Their vulnerabilities are your opportunities to improve another person’s life. Please respect our loved ones, their homes and their property whether they live in old houses or special facilities. Please respect our loved ones’ lives. Please be reliable and trustworthy; help your charges enjoy their final days, months, or years with some sense of dignity.
Please treat our loved ones the way you want to be treated when it’s your time to rely on strangers for daily care. See the importance of your work. Your presence in their lives holds so much potential value. Please strive to realize that potential by giving them something to be happy about when all else seems lost.
The fact many of our loved ones are unable to recall a visit, a joke, a family member does not mean they are ineligible for the opportunity to create new memories. If you sit with them, hold a hand, tell a joke, kiss a forehead, or share a story from your life, you are giving them something of value: your time, your attention, you. Even if they don’t remember the encounters, you still leave a mark within them.
These men and women had full lives before you met them. They had careers, families, tragedies, successes. They fought in wars, in courts, in protests to afford you the possibility to live the life of your dreams. The life of an 89-year-old patient reaches beyond what you have read in history books. What you learned about the Great Depression, they lived. What your teachers told you about rations during WWII, they experienced. These men and women were teachers, mothers, fathers, ministers, architects, entrepreneurs, survivors, farmers, attorneys, engineers, Girl Scout leaders, Cub Scout leaders. The vast majority of their parents had to fight for the right to vote, own property, attend school. These men and women voted for presidents you’ve only seen in books.
If we take the time to tell you our loved ones’ biographies, please listen to us. Stand in awe of their accomplishments, trials, survival. If we don’t tell you details about their human experiences, feel free to ask. Feel free to show interest in who they were and how they got where they are. Don’t ever assume these older adults were anything less than productive members of our society. The person in that wheelchair is as important as your father, your mother, and your grandparents.
Please keep in mind, their value as humans shouldn’t be judged by the number of visitors they have each week. Their value as humans shouldn’t be judged by what they know about the world as it is today. Their value as humans is in their history, what they’ve done for friends and family. Their value is that they are still here, existing rather than living because they have no other choice. They rely on caregivers to help them make it through another day, in a long history of days, with some semblance of dignity and happiness.
While so many people strive to “live in the moment” that is where our loved ones often stay, without choice. They exist in their perceptions of this very moment which may be 1944, or 1955, or 1984. This very moment might be their cage. This very moment may provide shelter from the states of their lives. Please help them feel as if they are living in their moments with dignity. Please give them reasons to feel safe, secure, and important, even if it’s just for that one, brief moment. Please take good care of them.
Yours in compassion,