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The heartbreak of caring

December 18, 2017
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I met a new aide, who I will call Callie, on Christmas one year. I felt a bit sorry that her first day of work was a holiday centered around family and faith. Though she was quiet at first, I could tell she was taking everything in.

Callie was more outgoing on her second shift. On her third day, she came in and asked if she could sing a song a special teacher taught her. In a full voice, she sang One Tin Soldier from the 1971 movie Billy Jack. Her singing gave me chills. I wondered how someone so young could sing an antiwar song with such heart. Callie was 22 years old and the single mother of a daughter. My inner voice said, “Don't get too close to this one.” I chose not to listen.

I taught Callie my care routine. I was not surprised when she did it correctly the first time. I told her I was concerned that she might regret being overeager because others might take advantage of her. She was not concerned. My inner voice cautioned me to be wary. However, I ignored it because every time Callie was my aide the day was better. She never made me feel like I was too much trouble.

Callie told me something about nursing home care bothered her. She felt some aides lacked a sense of caring. I thought she did not understand that some aides might have hardened as a defense against being hurt. Callie was sensitive and showed it. Over the years, I had seen caring aides shunned by more experienced ones for being overly considerate to residents. I knew Callie had to find a way to fit in with the aides, and I hoped she would.

I also knew she was a young, bright, funny and independent-minded woman. I could see a bit of me in her and wondered if she would always be trying to get through a brick wall.

I tried not to be obvious about liking her. Although favoritism is frowned upon, I knew connecting with another is one of life's joys.

Then, as I feared, Callie left after three months. She gave no two weeks’ notice. She was just gone. It was a mistake of youth I could understand. I guess she must have wanted to make an impact somewhere else.

Callie came to visit a short time later. Though I chided her for leaving without notice, I shared that I was glad we met. I told her I let her get close to me even though I thought better of it. I told her sometimes it is necessary to get too close and then get hurt. I also told her I needed moral and emotional support but could not always wait to get it from family and friends. Many times, that support comes from aides, some much younger than me.

Getting older has made me realize that everyone I meet is important. I know now that whether they made a positive impact, negative impact or none at all, I learned from each of them.

In the movie Out of Africa, Karen Blixen, tired of saying goodbye, says, “I’m better at hello.”

I learned getting to know an aide who brightened my life and supported me when I needed it made the goodbye a bit easier.

Kathleen Mears

@KathleenLMears1

www.ltlmagazine.com/blog/kathleen-mears

Kathleen Mears is a long-time blogger who has been a nursing home resident for 21 years. She is...

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