My thoughts and reflections on my Catholic Faith, Fulton Sheen, the problem of suffering, and books

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Caregiving: Death, Faith, and Bedside Commodes

(...or when a blog post you started months ago takes a totally different turn....)

I am a caregiver. For three-and-one-half years, I worked privately; then, almost a year ago, I got a job with an agency. I've cared for probably a dozen clients; and while some have been axasperating, on the whole, I've liked them.

I lost a client in December. I only had the privilege of caring for her for two days at the end of October. The shift was a last-minute one that needed to be filled; I accepted it because it was nearby...and then I read my client's assessment and found out that she was dying. I was terrified: what if she died on my shift? what if she needed more than I could give? what would I say [I'm an expert at sticking my foot in my mouth in delicate situations]? But then I accepted it, and found a charming woman--funny, kind, gentle, grateful...and I picked up a shift with her the next week as well. It was heart-breaking to see how much she had declined in just that one week; but she was still funny and kind and graceful. I tried to pick up more shifts with her, but they were filled; and then her family came, and she no longer needed my company's services.

In mid-December, in a middle-of-the-night moment (I have too many of those), I looked my client up online, and found that she had died ten days previously.

I had known she was dying; but even still, the news rattled me.

I went to my office's Candelighting Ceremony in January. None of my client's family members were able to be present; I was the only one of her caregivers who attended; and thus, I was privileged to light a candle in her memory and to take home a white rose. When the rose wilted, I pressed the petals, and put them in a box, so I can always remember Ms. L.

I can't tell you now what it was I loved about her...I've had other clients whom I've known I loved during the time I was caring for maybe it's just the fact that she's the first client I lost, that's made her stick with me.

I believe in God. I believe in the resurrection of the body. I believe in life everlasting.

How does someone who possesses no faith--someone with no belief in God, in a life after this one--perform a job as a companion to the elderly, or a Personal Care Assistant (my title), or a nurse, or a doctor?

When I first started with this company, this was my mindset:
I am not a saint by any stretch of the imagination; there most definitely is no halo around my head; and there is no way in heck I would do this job for free. (I'm no Mother Teresa!) This is my job right now--I need money in order to live, to pay bills, to buy food, etc. This is only a job, only something I'm doing "until something better comes along."
Thanks to a change in circumstances, the job has moved on from being merely a job, merely something I'm doing for the money, merely something I'm doing "until something better comes along," to something more.

I don't want to call it a "vocation"; I don't think God is calling me to spend the rest of my life caring for the elderly (I hope He's not!) but I'm beginning to find the joy in the job, rather than to let the job take away all the joy.

A few months ago, I was emptying a particularly foul bedside commode, and the thought came--I hope in the form of a prayer: "I want to empty this commode as if I were doing it for You, Lord."  Now, let me be clear that that thought does not cross my mind every time I have to perform that task; sometimes it's pressed out through gritted teeth, from a tired caregiver who's not sure she's making a difference in anyone's life; sometimes, in the normal human disgust at the task, the thought doesn't occur to me at all.

However, that is exactly what needs to be my motivation--the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning, that sends me into my clients' homes with a smile no matter how cranky I may feel.

Because this job is an opportunity to serve Christ in these elderly people. Because He's there. There is an opportunity for me to serve Christ in the lady with schizophrenia who does not seem to realize that "cleanliness is next to godliness." (Ms. B died in January...may she rest in peace.) I can serve Him by repeating myself three times as I try to have a conversation with the nearly-deaf ninety-seven year-old. And I can serve Him in the couple--both members of the Chosen People--whose request to go to the grocery store fills me with terror, because one of them walks extremely fast, and the other walks extremely slow, and somehow I have to keep an eye on both of them!

Christ is there. They're made in His Image and Likeness, so I have to remember, even on the most exasperating days, these words from Jan Karon's Mitford Series:

"Lord, make me a blessing to someone today."

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