Some years ago, I transitioned from running my business to studying Aged and Disability Care. I worked in a high care facility, and on a team of Carers in an independent living estate. During this time, one thing I often heard were the words “I don’t want to be here” or “I don’t want to live” either directly spoken or demonstrated through behaviour. This point is at the most vulnerable….
What was evident among the elderly was often despair that comes from a deep-seated grief over a loss of identity, loss of physical ability, loss of dignity, emotional turmoil, and many other reasons that are common to all to other age groups.
- One of my experiences was caring for a lovely gentleman who I was to wake up each morning for his breakfast, he would open one eye, look up at me and say “ you better be an angel” my reply was always “yes I am, but not the feathered wings type that you were expecting” He had a wicked sense of humour that was joyful on the surface but despairing at the same time… His grief over the loss of his physical ability to live as he once had lived left him despairing. This man was 99 years old, and on recognising the decline in his emotional wellbeing and mental health we as a team began reminding him of his future in becoming a centenarian, of the celebration we have planned with the press coming to write about him and of the remarkable life he had lived, among other things that we put in place; so over time we saw him regaining his dignity, he was able to overcome his despair and look forward to the dawn of every new day. He lived happily to 104 years old and died well.
- Another experience was with wonderful lady who lived in the independent living estate, who had a very social life and was regularly seen going into the café or restaurant on the estate, for events and high teas with friends. She had enjoyed this wonderful social life and loved being the perfect host to many of her friends. She had also been in a position to have staff to maintain daily events. But over time her activity declined and finally not at all. We as a team assessed the situation and determined her need for help… we were able as a team to discern her despair through her manor of requesting help having been a fiercely independent woman it proved difficult for her to do so. With the loss of her physical ability her despair grew into a very demanding woman grieving the loss of the quality of life she once knew. This did not happen overnight but as she grew closer to what she recognised as potentially a painfully emotional passing, she finally found peace in her faith and mellowed in Character. We as a team would server her meals and prepare her for each day in the way she had done for most of her life with elegance and in character. Even though she was very cranky at times, we happily provided 24-hour care including over night shifts in case she called out in the night. I stayed with her on the last night when she called me into her room to say something, she had wanted to say but could not, her simple words were… “I’m a little afraid, but I want you to know that I appreciate you very much” … I delivered that message to the team on handover and the carer on duty that morning spent the last few moments with her.
“these people proved to me that Restoring the soul, not reproving the despair, is the aim of our love.”
Always remembering that “the words of one in despair belong to the wind” and being able to discern the source of suffering is truly caring when you are able to step closer to the one in despair who learns to wait on the dawn of a new day.
This week we have suicide prevention day, the theme for this is STEPPING CLOSER to see what is really going on and prevent it from happening… We have a better opportunity of preventing vulnerable people at any age by putting a range of certain actions in place that can make a difference and removing all means of despairing leading to thoughts of ending life prematurely.