Before I began working as an assistant/caregiver to senior citizens, I knew the job would be challenging at times. After all, older folks can be stubborn, impatient, and set in their ways, right? Those things do not bother me and I expect them to some degree. Sure, we have stressful senior moments now and then, but I have found that just treating people with respect brings out the best qualities in almost everyone. Now, Arthur can be a bit of a mess, but he's another story.
Maintaining a professional distance from the seniors I work with can be a difficult part of my job. I have been fortunate to form friendships with several clients, and I consider each one a gift. These folks are kind, loving, and sometimes generous to a fault. I would have to be hardhearted to not care. Even though work gets done, I spend a lot of time in conversation, listening and learning about their families, health, and other issues that matter to my older friends. Perhaps this behavior lacks professionalism, but it makes older people feel alive, recognized, and appreciated.
Today I was met with a more serious unexpected occupational hazard. Last night I had spoken with a sweet elderly lady, Maudine, whom I have done some cleaning for over the last couple of months. We made plans for today to go through her clothing and decide what would be kept, donated, and so forth. She wanted to get her cluttered apartment better organized and I agreed to help.
I arrived on time this afternoon at Maudine’s apartment, ready to work. After several minutes of knocking on the door and the windows, and receiving no answer, I tried to reach her by phone. When none of that worked, I asked several residents if they had seen her, and no one had. The maintenance man was called to unlock the door to the apartment and inside he found Miss Maudine. She had passed away in her sleep. Shocked and devastated, I cried like a baby, standing there on her walkway. Even though I knew this type of thing was possible in this line of work, I was still caught off guard. Grief is grief, I guess.
The police showed up and asked me questions. When did I see and talk to her last? What did I know about her health? Did I know how to contact her family? I tried to be helpful and provided what I could. The coroner contacted me with a few questions he thought I could answer. The experience was surreal for me today. Although I was not close to Maudine, I still felt a loss. She was as sweet as she could be and I am grateful that she passed away in a peaceful manner.
What I found most interesting was that I was the only one crying in the small crowd of people who had gathered. Maudine’s neighbors and several other tenants seemed somewhat unfazed by her passing. I don’t believe that they did not care, just that they are more accustomed to seeing death at this point in their lives. In fact, they were more concerned about me than anything else. I received hugs and genuine words of comfort from my older friends. I’ve had phone calls and offers to talk about what happened. No one seemed too worried about any professional distance today, and for that I am grateful.
This experience has not changed my mind about doing the work I do. I will continue to work with senior citizens, doing what I can to help them. Will I still agree to provide services which are not listed on my flyer? Of course. Will my patience be pushed to the limits now and then? Sure. Will I allow myself to become attached to the people I assist? Most likely. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t.