I have been a professional caregiver for twenty years and I continue to learn a valuable life lesson everyday. I’m always amazed how sorrow and pain can bring such wonderful gifts as wisdom, patience, insight and love. I think it is very easy to make the mistake of tunnel visioning on the tasks we have at hand. We get so caught up in the daily necessities and routines that we forget or ignore the very things that can bring us joy and teach us many valuable lessons.
I was hired to care for a very special lady. I was to prepare meals for her, make sure she took her medication properly, do light housekeeping, and provide transportation to and from the market and her doctor’s appointments. All of these tasks were important and necessary so that she could remain living independently. Our focus was just that — helping her to remain independent.
It was on a cold rainy night, she had just crawled into bed, and she turned her little head and smelled her pillow. I noticed tears running from her eyes. She looked up at me and said “It’s been such a long time since I’ve had clean sheets; I love the smell of fresh clean sheets. I couldn’t change the sheets myself anymore, I didn’t know how to manage hanging on to my walker and changing the sheets at the same time. Thank you so much for changing my sheets.”
Such a simple pleasure as smelling clean sheets brought such great joy to her life. That was the day I learned unconditional care. The next day we sat down and talked about what was important to her, what she liked, and how she had done things all these years. The key point learned here was we were trying to help her remain independent, assisting her with the things she had always done for herself . . . but we forgot to ask how she liked those things done, and what was important to her.
She was the sunshine in my life. I never knew how much I would enjoy and learn from her sharing her life experiences with me. Meal time was not just another chore or necessity of life; it was an event to her. She showed me all of the beautiful and delicate dishes she had collected all of her life. Each one had a special story and held fond memories for her. Her personal favorite was the oblong dishes she used for individual ears of corn. She loved lots of melted butter, not margarine, smothering her ear of corn. Her mother had given her the corn dishes as a wedding present sixty-five years ago. Not a day goes by now that when I eat corn on the cob or climb into my bed which has fresh clean sheets, that I don’t see her beautiful little smiling face, so full of joy and hope from such simple pleasures.
I’m so thankful for the lessons I have learned . . . the lessons I almost missed because I forgot to slow down to look and see the beauty that was right in front of me.
By Angelica White