Elaine Sanchez, expert and speaker on long term care, thanks tens of thousands of nursing home caregivers across America, and expresses how grateful she is for the care they provide for our loved ones – especially the cranky ones. She goes on to say: “When you treat someone like my Grandpa Stan with compassion, respect, and love, you may not get acknowledged or thanked, but please know that what you do matters. It matters a lot, and no kindness, no show of respect is ever wasted.” Read her entire story…
I just finished reading A Funny Thing Happened on My Way To The Dementia Ward, a Memoir of a Male CNA by Charles Schoenfeld. It’s a delightful and light-hearted account of a middle-aged man’s experience of caring for residents with dementia. One paragraph toward the end of the book impacted me deeply.
Charles said, “I often heard apologies from the families of those living with Alzheimer’s. People tried desperately to excuse the behavior of a loved one whose mind had been set adrift. I hope to convey a message: There are people who understand. Your loved one, regardless of his or her dementia, is capable of being loved by someone who up until now was a stranger.”
Reading Charles’ story reminded me of my first experience with a family member in a nursing home. In 1983 at age 91, my Grandpa Stan suffered a debilitating stroke and became a resident of the The Cedars in McPherson, Kansas. The stroke left him confused, cranky, and often combative. I’m sad to say that the day he died, our sense of relief was greater than our sense of loss.
There’s a lot of business that needs to be attended to after someone dies. People have to be notified. Funeral arrangements have to be made. The room needs to be emptied, and possessions have to be sorted and dealt with. My parents, being stoic Kansas farmers, handled all of these details in a pragmatic and practical manner.
And then a few days after the funeral, the administrator of The Cedars called my mother to say a couple of Stan’s shirts had been in the laundry when they packed up his things. The shirts were now clean, and he asked her to pick them up when it was convenient.
When Mom stopped in, she expected to be handed a bag. But when the administrator brought out grandpa’s shirts, they were starched, pressed, buttoned, and hanging on hangars. Mom started to cry. She said, “I didn’t expect them to be ironed.”
The administrator nodded and said, “The lady who does the laundry ironed them out of respect for Stan.”
Even today, when I think of that woman, I choke up. My grandfather had suffered so many blows to his dignity. Because of the stroke he couldn’t get into or out of bed on his own. He’d lost control of his bladder and his bowels. He was dependent on other people for his most basic needs, and the affront to his pride was almost more than he could bear. He was not pleasant or cheerful, and he rarely did anything that would engender tender feelings from anyone.
And yet, the woman who did the laundry respected him enough to iron his shirts.
Through that simple, gracious act she reminded all of us that he was still a human being. Even though the stroke and old age had wracked his body and destroyed much of the function of his brain, she treated him with dignity – even in death.
I have wondered if she knew Grandpa before the stroke. Did he have any interaction with her after he became a resident there? Did he ever say, “Good Morning” or “Thank you” to her?
I’ll never know.
What I do know is she didn’t judge his value as a human being by his age, his physical condition, or even (thank goodness) by his behavior. Because none of those things would have tilted the like-ability scales in his favor.
She ironed his shirts out of respect, and in so doing, she made all of us think of him a little differently – and because of her, I’ve been a one-woman marching band singing the praises of The Cedars for nearly 30 years.
I think it’s important to share this story because I know every day, both family caregivers and professional caregivers have to deal with challenging situations and people. All of us are facing uncertainty and turbulent times as the healthcare industry transforms into whatever it is going become. And sometimes the “business” of caring for our elders can become overwhelming.
Reading Charles Schoenfeld’s book reminded me of the laundress at The Cedars. I’m sorry I never knew her name, and I’m sorry I never thanked her. So on her behalf, I’d like to say to the tens of thousands of other nursing home caregivers across America, how grateful I am to you for the care you provide for our loved ones – especially the cranky ones. When you treat someone like my Grandpa Stan with compassion, respect, and love, you may not get acknowledged or thanked, but please know that what you do matters. It matters a lot, and no kindness, no show of respect is ever wasted.