Wednesday, November 9, 2011

and now I'm verklempt...

This post is coming out of my experience with a class of soon-to-be CNAs (certified nursing assistants) that I had the pleasure of teaching this morning. The subject was dementia and Alzheimer's. We spent three hours discussing the pathology of dementia, when/if it is reversible, signs and symptoms, etc. Then we went over and over and over, again, that folks living with dementias are still unique and special people who need to be respected and treated with dignity and respect. Each student seemed engaged and I really appreciated that. At the end, I wanted to share my story about being a CNA and why I was so glad that they were doing such a yucky and, often, thankless job. Let me share a bit of it with you.

Right after I graduated from high school, I became a certified nursing assistant. It was a great fit! I adore older adults and am a natural "mother hen". I worked the 11pm-7am shift that summer. Talk about some great experience! I was able to hear some of the BEST stories and meet some of the most interesting people. Sure, most of the time the residents were asleep and I would tip-toe around their room, making certain they were safe, warm, and comfortable. There were the icky parts, but, well, that just goes along with it. No biggie. However, when the residents rose in the morning, they were usually so generous and patient with me. Yes, that would be fine to wear today. Yes, they liked how their hair was styled. Along with all the usual morning activities, though, they would often tell about their life when they had young children. They would regal me with stories of The War, trips they had taken, the first time they saw a television. I soaked all of it up! I really enjoyed having a chance to learn so much from them.

I paused after that to take a breath and then told the students the rest.

The most incredible part of my summer, though, came from many of the residents who were no longer able to speak. The residents who hardly ever left their beds. The residents who were preparing for the journey Home. I actually spent the majority of my time in the 4th wing, or the terminal wing. That is where I would ask to be placed every night. I had a calling, still do, to be with the dying.

This made the students sit back and some grimaced. Some of you are probably doing the same thing. That's okay, though. We each have our own unique strengths. I was influenced from a very young age by Mother Teresa (Blessed Teresa of Calcutta). I only knew of her obvious work in India and not of her internal work, but I have digressed. She was a woman that I felt was an example of how I wanted to live my life. I  even contemplated becoming a nun for many years. 

I found a great deal of peace in holding the hand of, really, a stranger, and loving them with all my heart as they took their last breath. This was especially important for those residents who hadn't any family to be with them, or whose family could not emotionally handle the passing of a loved one. I understood. I just had to be there, though, for that person. I had to hold their hand and stroke their arm. I needed to smooth their hair. I needed to let them know that they were cared for and loved. They needed to know that they could Go in Peace. I would hold their hand until they were officially pronounced. I would accompany the men as they bundled up their precious cargo and placed them in the van. Someone had to make sure that that person was treated with dignity, even if they were no longer breathing. They needed a "beautiful death".

I am no saint. I curse more than I should, if ever, really. I think mean thoughts. I have struggles just like you do. 

I ended my story and thanked the ladies, again, for committing to such an important task. One of the gals had started crying and I dismissed class. I had hoped to give her a big old hug, but she left before I could speak with her. I'll never know exactly why she was crying. I hope, though, that maybe she could relate. Maybe she will take on this task, of loving a dying stranger, and make their final moments meaningful. I hope. I pray.

Do you have a calling?

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