I have to admit, every time I look at the header of My Father Doesn’t Know Me Anymore, I get a little sad. The series of pictures reflects more than just JHP,JR’s life. When I look at it, I see the potential, growth, success, plateau, decline and demise of the man who was my father.
It’s this history, this progression that I think a lot of paid caregivers don’t think about as they trudge their way through the work of caring for an elderly person with dementia. I remember talking to one such person while dad was still living at home. I asked her if she ever thought about the things she learned about in history class and whether or not any of her charges had ever experienced the things she only read about.
She had not.
I once asked another caregiver if it ever crossed his mind that every single person in that building had experiences around the Great Depression, WWW II, JFK’s assassination, the Korean and Vietnam wars, The Gulf War, etc.
He had not.
I asked these questions because these particular caregivers had that just-get-the-paycheck air about them and I wanted them to consider the person who was before them, the challenges they’d overcome, the history they experienced, the history they made. The caregivers often acted like the residents were babies. While many of them had good intentions, they seemed to overlook the status the residents had achieved in their lifetimes. Some of these men had been young soldiers crawling on beaches dodging enemy fire. Some of the women were pioneers that paved the way for us. Most of them were well-educated either through traditional means or self-taught. They’d seen the highest and the lowest of life. They’d survived tragedies and reared successful children. Many of them had their names inscribed on plaques or piles of awards in their children’s closets.
I can only imagine what it is like to have moments of clarity where I realize it isn’t 1951 or that my wife has been dead for 30 years. I know the work of the paid caregiver is far from easy for there are physical challenges, mental and emotional challenges, and dealing with the dynamics of the family if and when that family is around. It’s not easy for anyone, but the job is to make it as pleasant as possible for the elder – the person who lives in a different era in their mind.
So, as a little birthday present for my father, I ask that everyone take a moment today and think about the living history of the person for whom they are caring today. Look for an opportunity to reflect on a historical period they lived through. Is there a chance to peek into their lives, the parts of their lives that existed before you did? If so, try it and see what interesting new thing you learn about someone today.
Happy birthday JHP,JR! I’m thinking about you, but I’m not letting myself cry because it would probably piss you off. And that’s okay by me.
Everybody else, hang in there and, as JHP,JR would say, “Be sweet.”