This Sunday, October 6th marks the USCCB’s annual Respect Life Sunday, which kicks off a new year of their Respect Life Program. The theme for the 2019-2020 campaign is “Christ Our Hope, in Every Season of Life.”
I’d like to focus on the end-of-life “season” of the pro-life picture. I’ve had the blessing of working with the elderly and handicapped as an in-home caregiver. In this role, I became aware of the astonishing inadequacies of our culture’s elder care options. Pro-life news outlets do not cover this facet of the pro-life movement as extensively.
I sadly discovered that young people often choose this profession for the sole purpose of making more money than working in a fast food restaurant. This was the rationalization I heard many times, from caregivers I would find sitting in the kitchen with their phones when I walked in for my shift. I would point-blank inquire, “Why did you feel called to this type of work?” More money with less strenuous exertion was most often their impetus.
I would head off to find the client, sit and chat with them, see if they needed anything. Then, when they were comfortable, I’d take little “breaks” from them to clean bathrooms, or wash dishes, or toss in a load of laundry. The misdirected caregivers rarely cleaned, even though it was a job requirement. Why didn’t they get fired, you might be wondering. I wondered, too, but the thing is, there is a ridiculous overabundance of in-home caregiver agencies these days, with owners eager to cash in on the growing need, and they are desperate to fill their schedules. They put up with subpar employees because they need a body in the houses of their clients, whether they’re good at the job or not.
As a country, we say we want the best for our senior citizens (many of whom have served our country in the military, taught us in school, or contributed greatly to society in other, less glorified ways), but when we’re faced with turning to professionals, we find that the ones doing the most tangible work, “serving in the fields,” are earning a pittance compared to fees charged by agencies. Therefore, care-giving has to be something that a person is called to. It must be seen as a mission, as an act of charity, as a desire to bring joy and encouragement to folks in need.
So, what kept me going? Why did I revel in caring for the elderly (and assisting the families in their burden)? I want to share with you some beautiful moments I’ve had in my interaction with clients over the years. These were spiritual gifts of two souls coming together, connecting in a pure and palpable love for a short time.
Many of my clients had the “gift” of grumbling. It often goes hand-in-hand with the suffering of old age, the lack of attention from grown children, and a high level of frustration with some of the other caregivers they’ve been stuck with. I always employed the gift of good listening, but then redirected their thoughts to happier days and/or activities. I’d walk in to a sour face and the same complaints, but within a short time we were chatting away, and the client would be smiling. I had one client who was very bitter, and angry with God. She actually said to me, “God can go to hell! He doesn’t care about me!”
I replied, “I know that’s not true.”
“How can you know that?!” she shot back.
“Well,” I said (knowing that she loved me), “He sent me here to you, didn’t He?”
She was quiet for a moment, then said, in a much calmer voice, “Well, I guess you’re right about that.”
There were a couple of clients that I cared for only once or twice, as an emergency fill-in, but they affected me tremendously. One lady had advanced dementia, and she was very nervous and fidgety. She could not get comfortable anywhere. I found an old Reader’s Digest magazine with some of those “feel-good” stories they always publish. I convinced her to lie on the couch, and I read two articles to her. She calmed down completely. After the second story, she gazed upon me for several seconds, and then said, in a voice filled with wonder, “Who are you?!” At that time, I was working for an agency that used “Angel” as part of their name, so I told her I was her angel. She smiled and nodded.
I used the reading idea again for a bedridden man I met. The caregiver I took over from had showed me how to work the TV remote and the headphones, so I could pass the time more pleasantly. I thought to myself, “What? You’ve got to be kidding me! Here’s this soft-spoken old man, bed-ridden, and you sit watching TV with headphones on?! No thank you! I’m here to be with this man.” I found a bookshelf and randomly chose a book about Mark Twain to read for the client.
This prompted him to tell me that he had grown up in northern Illinois, near the mighty Mississippi, and his parents were Mark Twain admirers, so much so that his middle name was Sawyer. I read to him for a while, then he said something. I had to lean down close to hear him speak. He asked me, “Are you a librarian?”
I chuckled, “No, but I was a home-schooling mom, so I used the library a lot.”
“Oh,” he said, “Well … my wife was a librarian.” Tears came to my eyes. Here was this lovely man, with a lifetime story to share, and he was basically telling me that I reminded him of his wife. What a gift he gave to me that day!
This is just the tip of the iceberg of the fringe benefits of my job. It was a payment plan that didn’t add to my bank account, but filled my soul with delight. If you are an older stay-at-home mom, looking at that emptying nest and wondering what to do with your spare time (or, a younger mom looking for part-time employment), maybe this is it. Maybe you are “certified” in compassion, because, honestly, that is the most important training for this job (everything else, you can figure out with training videos online … seriously!). Working directly with the family is really the best option for all involved. All you need to do is start letting people know, and before long, you’ll be reaping the same blessings I enjoyed. Together, we can promote a pro-life approach to elder care – one precious, worthy life at a time.
Copyright 2019 Charlene Rack