Wednesday, September 12, 2007

fear of the elderly?

I can't say that I have ALWAYS liked working with and/or being around elderly people, but I don't think I was ever afraid of them or put off by them. So why is it that I run into so many people today who immediately cringe when they find out where I work? Or can't find enough in common with an older person to have even a three-minute conversation with them? In all honesty, it really saddens me.

My first real exposure to older people was obviously my grandparents, although since they were not as old as some, that may not have counted. I do remember visiting my great-grandmother regularly in the nursing home where she lived. And I loved it. We would take her outside, read to her, sing to her, etc. I loved talking to all the other residents there, too. I don't remember ever being scared of them or being disgusted that I was there. (And I wasn't a little kid, so my memories of this ARE intact!) She passed away when I was 14, and I remember thinking that was the saddest I had ever felt. I do know that was the most I had ever cried. Looking back, I am glad I did not allow that experience of loss to keep me from getting close to other elderly people in the future.

All of my grandparents passed away in seemingly quick succession when I was between the ages of 16 and 18. I struggled a lot at that point in my life. I was very close to at least two of them, and had a relationship with all four. Very soon after my first grandfather died, I took a job in the kitchen of a retirement home on the recommendation of my school principal. I was unwilling at first, but soon grew to love the senior citizens I served meals to. This was the first time I noticed it, but it still rings true today -- older/elderly people thrive on the attention of younger people.

Eventually I had to leave that job and pursue other things. After graduating from high school, I was still a little disillusioned as to what I really wanted to do with my life. My dad was not excited about this his eyes, I was brilliant and needed to further my education. One night, he came in my room and handed me a college catalog and told me to pick a major. At first I said no, and then I looked through it and found an excuse as to why I hated every major. I finally said, well, maybe I could do nursing, but I don't really like science. My dad said, great, it's settled, you're going to go to school for nursing!

And go to school for nursing I did! Even graduated four years later with a bachelor's degree! During the summer breaks from school, I continued to discover my love for working with the elderly by working as an aide in a local nursing home. The third summer, I was able to expand by working on the Alzheimers' floor and discovering a new dimension of elder care. There was no one I could really talk to about my job. Most people thought it was disgusting, and all my classmates just couldn't understand my wanting to work with older people when the fast-paced intensive care units at the hospital were so much more exciting. When we graduated from nursing school, all of us had to write and read an essay about why we wanted to be a nurse. I wrote in my essay that I was pretty sure it had all started in a nursing home, whether it was with my great-grandmother, singing with school groups, or working there.

I graduated two years ago. Today, I am working more hours with elderly people than I ever have in the past. I work three or four days a week taking care of an 83-year-old lady in her home. I work two or more days a week at a nursing home, providing full resident care. I volunteer with my church in the nursing home ministry, and also volunteer at a local retirement home on occasion. There is so much to be learned from these people, so much respect they deserve, so much love you can show.

I hope no one thinks this post is me trying to pat myself on the back for my community service, b/c that is not what I intended at all. I am nowhere near as caring as I could or should be. Do I always go to work for the right reasons? NO. Do I ever get frustrated? That's a big YES. Do I like everything about nursing homes. That's definitely a resounding NO. I am beyond frustrated with the politics of most nursing homes. the administrations making rules that are just that, with no room for compassion. Have I ever gotten disgusted doing my job? OF COURSE. (not with the people, with the situation)

But, on the other hand, I can't understand you if you're put off by the sight of an elderly person. I can't understand you if you choose not to visit your family member in a nursing home, b/c it's too weird or it makes you uncomfortable. I don't understand how putting a smile on an older person's face couldn't make your day (but maybe that's just me). Is it sometimes hard? YES, it is, but I think it is worth it. In the end, it is never about you in the first place -- it is about them. I may not like all aspects of nursing homes, but rules and administration and politics do not a nursing home make. It is the people who reside there. In the same capacity that I would feel honored to care for either of my parents or any of my family members really, I feel honored to do for these people what they can no longer do for themselves.

Psalm 71:9 -- "Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth."


Anonymous said...

Way to go girl...I totally agree...sometimes I think I would rather work with the elderly over against working with the oh so bratty teenagers of our day and age.
a salute goes out to our older generation who have paved the way before us!

Anonymous said...

Missy! How are you doing???? I got a blog.. hope all is well!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the comments!! your so sweet!

Jessica said...

I love elderly people! Most of them are so sweet, and caring. They seem to live life in "today" instead of like most of us younger people who are always thinking of tomorrow! My Grandma is in a nursing home now, and we get to go visit her often. I like to see all the older people, most of which will wave and say "Hi" as we pass. I think working with elderly people is very comendable! I know I couldn't do it, simply becuase when one died it would kill me! (But I guess the Lord has to give you grace to handle that).

I work with kids, that's what I have always felt like the Lord has called me to do. I guess we are similar, in that we both work with people. But I work with little ones and you work with older ones! :)

I enjoyed reading your blog! I found it from a comment you left on someone else's blog. I'll be back! :)