As a caregiver, I have spent the past 11 months caring for those who need some extra assistance in order to remain at home for as long and as independently as possible. However, they often need help to perform even the most basic tasks. As I have worked and served in this way, I have gained insight and perspective I had previously been unaware was available. This was emphasized to me last October as I learned about the importance of being consistent throughout one ?s entire life. But particularly since the discussion concerning the care of the elderly here at Mormon Momma, I have been even more consciously aware of the needs of the elderly and the necessity of caring for them in a loving and consistent way.
And this month I have realized again that one of my great hopes is to age gracefully.
In mid-July I cared for a man for the first time. He has Parkinson ?s and can ?t speak any more, although he can understand what you say and try to smile or point. His wife assisted with his bed bath and his transfers [bed to wheelchair, wheelchair to recliner]. Later, as I was doing his range of motion exercises, he fell asleep. Having seen how calm and easy-going he was about his personal care and having listened to his wife and oldest son tell stories about their family, I noticed how peaceful – how whole and unravaged by disease – he looked while asleep. It is obvious that the disease has not robbed him of the inner person he is.
This month I also helped a woman at work during the day. Usually I am there overnight. Her paranoia and dementia are more pronounced in the daytime. At night, when she is groggy from sleep, she is more confused than paranoid. Later, when I was telling Ray about my day which included the woman getting agitated about some rather insignificant things that she interpreted as happening largely because I was unfamiliar ? with the day routine, he offered an alternative perspective: Being easily agitated is simply a part of who she is. Knowing and accepting this aspect of her personality, I can more easily brush off any such comments and not take them personally.
Some people are naturally kind; others are naturally cynical. Still others are going to find something, anything, about which to get upset. Ray used the examples of a number of people whom I have helped at work. Some, even with diseases and infirmities, are kind and gentle. Others are bitter and angry. And others are lost and confused by changes over which they have no control.
I have cared for other men and women – those suffering from dementia, Alzheimer ?s, ALS (Lou Gehrig ?s Disease), cancer, decline due to natural aging, or regret for harsh relationships and bad choices in their lives. I wish I had known them 5-10 years ago – that I could have the chance to see them in their previous lives of vitality before they were limited by their infirmities, diseases, and decline in mental and physical abilities. I wish I ?d had the opportunity to know the REAL person, not the debilitated suffering persona I help.
And I wonder about the type of person I will be in another 40-50 years. How will I react to the natural decline of my abilities, to unexpected changes in my routine, to new people coming to aid in my comfort and care? How am I going to accept these often inevitable deviations from what I have previously known my life to be?
These experiences with the transitions of aging bring to mind a scripture, and help me view the meaning of this verse in a new light.
? that same spirit which doth posses your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. ? (Alma 34:34)
The characteristics I develop now will be an ingrained part of me later. Right now I still have the mental and emotional capacity to choose the person I want to be – here in the present as well as in the future. I can start now to change gradually, to build on who I have been in the past, and to strengthen those personality traits that I want to shine through as who I am, even when physical or mental capacities may be diminished and my control is impeded.
This understanding increases my desire to improve and to become a better person NOW. This knowledge offers me the motivation to change some of my bad habits or instinctive reactions, so that later when I may become impaired in my abilities to control my actions and my words, they will be more aligned with the person I am trying to be and to become.
My hope is that in doing this I will indeed age gracefully.