Caring and Learning Life Lessons – Positivity & Gratitude
More Reasons for Positivity & Gratitude
2020 was the year that just wouldn’t let up. Presenting challenge after challenge. But, I for one have had opportunities for caring and learning life lessons. Whilst we’ve all had to make adjustments, we’ve also all had the opportunity to become more aware of those around us. Which is odd, considering that we have been deprived access to that very thing.
In a year when most of us have felt more vulnerable than before, most of us have also felt more caring and compassionate. We have been afforded the opportunity to be more demonstrably kind and considerate. Perhaps because we’ve had more time. It has been a time to become closer to our neighbours and more supportive of our service providers; Many of us have reached out and helped in our communities. We have shown support and gratitude to those who generally work under the radar; who we have a tendency to take for granted; our postmen, refuge collectors, postie , etc….
Perhaps we have rekindled, reinforced or possibly discovered, the joy of simpler things. The joy of giving; the joy of sharing.
My Story : Caring & Learning Life Lessons
My neighbours moved on 9th December. Unfortunately the move was not a smooth one and they were left in limbo and homeless for some weeks. To save their 98 year old mother having to ‘sofa surf’ into Christmas we offered her our self contained annex until all the issues were resolved.
We are lucky, our little annex is perfect for an elderly relative. That’s why we have it. It’s all on one level, small and easy to keep lovely and warm. Has comfortable furniture but no clutter and complicated equipment. It has a large walk in shower too.
‘Nanny’, may be 98 in years, but only her stories and memories give that away, she still has relatively youthful looks, mobility, and mental capacity. All her own teeth too!
We expected Nanny to be with us 7-10 days whilst the house sale completed, but as Christmas approached it was apparent that this would not be the case. So poor Nanny, having had no say in the matter, found herself with us for Christmas.
It has been a joy for us. An opportunity I am very grateful to have had. Caring for Nanny has involved, integrating her needs and routines into our life. It has meant slowing down a little, accepting that I might need to put a few things on hold; sharing our house and our time with another adult; giving her needs the priority.
I feel I have learned and grown from it . I developed improved my skills in caring and learned life lessons…
Caring and Learning Life Lessons in respect and consideration:
Times are challenging, but we’ve survived far worse
Nanny was a young woman during the 2nd world war. When we talk about struggles now it is worth remembering her Christmases, when at any moment a bomb might be dropped on her house/neighbourhood. From day to day people would go from living their life to absolute terror and things being bombed, shattered and burned. One moment people were alive, the next they were dead. A person was not safe, at those moments, in their own home. They had to scrabble to shelters and did not even know if their home would be there when they emerged.
Food was in short supply and heavily rationed
Husbands/finances/boyfriends/sons were away from home, totally out of contact; in daily peril; and any knock at the door may bring you the worst news
When Nanny talks about ‘now’ , it’s this ” I do feel sorry for the young people, they have it so difficult these days with covid “, I remind her of the same time in her own life.
Less is more
Nanny could not shop for Christmas, we didn’t give gifts (well a token only),. What we gave was time, company, conversation, laughter.
Caring and Compassion
Whilst Nanny has been here we have remembered her late husband on the 29th anniversary of his death. She has told us their love story. We have asked for more memories. She has shared them and I have held her hand and wiped her tears. Living to 98 has meant her outliving 2 of her 3 children.
This Christmas we watched old movies. Musicals actually. Oliver made Nanny gasp in horror, and cry, and breathe sighs of relief. Remembering how to lose oneself in the story without the special effects was joyful.
We laughed through Calamity Jane.
We cried through Sound of Music. Nanny regaled us with more stories and memories. We were again reminded that she was there during the rise of the Nazi movement. How terrifying that must have been. Yet her memories are predominantly beautiful and happy ones, and the horrors have faded into the background. She remembered taking her late daughter to the movie theatre to see Sound of Music when it first came out. It was an emotional afternoon.
We played cards. Everyday. And whilst doing so, we had a joke and a laugh, we teased each other, we planned the next day, and we chatted away. John and I love games so playing cards (Canasta) after supper each evening was not a chore for us; but for Nanny especially, it was more than a game; it was company, stimulation, activity, variety, brain work and a reminder of her middle age when, I believe, she was part of a Bridge club. She’s still quite a card shark, I can tell you. And I think we shall be teaching our family Canasta so we can continue to play.
Patience and Respect
I am embarrassed to come to the realisation that I showed far more patience and respect to Nanny than I sometimes (often) have to my own parents. I have become aware, in my responses to questions or actions from Nanny, how intolerant I often am to that behaviour from my own older relatives. It should be and (and I will try very hard in future to ensure I remember it as), an honour and a joy to hear the old stories (even if it is a repeat). The joy it gives to the person recounting it, is worth the time to show an interest , even if you have heard it all before.
Also, on many occasion a new insight appears from an old story. It also doesn’t matter if the story is not quite true or factual, If the revised memory is a happy one then its good to go… old age is potentially long; its easy to forget the freedom , respect and ability they once had; and how hard it much be to lose those things. I feel I have learned lessons in tolerance, patience and understanding. I am hopeful that they will make me a better person.
Nanny has a very sharp mind still and a pretty good memory. There are very few things she cannot do herself, if you have the patience to allow her. She can make her own coffee, breakfast, sandwiches and snacks; she can manage her own medication; she can dress and undress herself. These simple activities make her amazing. She does them in her own way and her own time, all she needs from us is a little patience, it would be easy to see her ‘achieving’ as ‘struggling’ and take over. But there is such enormous value in the retention of that little bit of independence. I will try very hard to remember that lesson. I will carve it into stone and display it over the mantlepiece less I forget when dealing with my own family in the future.
We taught Nanny a new game, a version of Dominoes called Mexican Train, it took some getting used to but she persevered. She enjoyed the stimulation of learning something new. We enjoyed the challenge of teaching it and playing it with her.
Giving is the biggest joy
As we get older there are some things we cannot or dare not risk doing alone; walking in the dark or without a stick; showering without a seat; getting in and out of a bath; washing our own hair; preparing a hot meal; lifting even slightly heavy items; navigating stairs or uneven surfaces; driving; for example.
Nanny did not chose to be here for 3 weeks so it was our responsibility to make sure she
- did not feel like she was in any way a burden
- felt safe
- felt warm and comfortable
- had everything she needed
- had her day run to her own preferred schedule
- was not ashamed or embarrassed about anything
- could ask for anything without being a nuisance
- was surrounded by friendship
- felt dignified..
What a privilege
I have not written this blog to appear saintly in any way**. I was doing a paid job as carer. I am writing it because of the lessons I have learned as a result
I put in that last point (9) because my only fear about having Nanny stay was that I had never been a full time ‘carer’ before. I was worried about being able to shower somebody and help them with personal hygiene. For the most part Nanny is perfectly capable of doing things herself, dressing, undressing, going to bed, washing. She already puts me to shame by looking tidier than I ever do and wearing makeup! However, at 98 getting in and out of a shower is a risky business! Washing your own back, feet and hair is more difficult. It is one of those very personal activities that you have to start relying on others to help you with.
My fear was about being able to help whilst ensuring her privacy, and dignity. I wanted to do these things with her still being very much in control of them. I learned the that approach was for me to be the student and her the teacher. To ask before doing anything; to keep it light hearted. Being totally guided by her, I realised what a privilege it was to be entrusted with the responsibility for someone’s intimate care and to help them feel good in the process. I really enjoyed her pleasure in a good back scrub, or having her hair styled.
We will miss our old neighbours
After 3 weeks and an emotional farewell, Nanny finally gets to move into her new home, back with her caring son and daughter in law. We have agreed to become pen pals. I also imagine we may call each other from time to time. We will miss our old neighbours. But I am forever grateful for the time Nanny has shared with us and the lessons I take forward from it x
** this post is written from a place of love and gratitude; its lessons to me, now in writing, will hopefully provide me with a reference point and a reminder, in the future