I am very honored to post a guest post on this blog. This post was written by Alisa Gilbert.
What A Caregiver Taught Me About Human Connection
This past summer, my best friend lost her grandmother to old age. She died a few days before her ninety-third birthday. She had suffered a serious stroke the winter before, and had been shifted from her nursing home to hospice care later that spring.
A team of caregivers rotated through their shifts to care for her, to change her bedding and diapers, to feed her and make her as comfortable as possible, in what I used to think of as a simple, perhaps distant activity. Now I understand that much more can come of proper care-giving. Towards the end, after her grandmother had suffered a series of minor strokes, my friend described how they used a miniature vacuum to clear mucus from her mouth. I had never understood the emotional and physical toll that hospice care can have upon everyone involved—the staff, the patient, and the family members—until I had to comfort my friend through that tough half of the year.
Each day she returned from visiting her grandmother, I heard stories of one specific caregiver, Mary, who seemed to have taken her job and utterly transformed it into a lifelong calling. My friend's family had dealt with other caregivers that seemed less interested, a pair of which had quit in the final days because they decided they'd be better off looking for more work, so to hear the talk of Mary seemed encouraging despite the sadness of the situation.
One day that final month my friend asked me to visit her grandmother with her, so I steeled my nerves and went along. Besides I wanted to meet Mary. When we entered the room, we were greeted by a short, middle-aged woman with brown hair and tears in her eyes. She immediately hugged my friend, and then hugged me, after which I was introduced. Mary gave us an update on the day, all of its tiny particulars, and then my friend sat by her grandmother.
Mary gave us a moment alone, and when she returned, my friend left to use the restroom, so I was alone with Mary and my friend's sleeping grandmother. Mary made small talk with me for several minutes, and then I watched as she quietly reached over to my friend's grandmother and with a cloth gently wiped at the corner of her mouth.
I understand that this is not necessarily a unique gesture, but it still struck me for the power I felt in the room. I will never forget the way Mary sort of filled the room with her emotions that day. She struck me as the kind of person who had a deep, deep respect for both her patients and the family members of her patients. I'm not sure I have ever witnessed in someone a sympathy for others as strong as hers. In a way, her example, the way she acted in that little hospice room made me rethink how I consider those who are sick and those who take care of them, and the warm connections that can exist between them.