The role of care giver is often lost to those individuals living with dementia or Parkinson's disease, and more. The majority of seniors at The Bridge or in most senior programs are women. Not to be sexist, but instead to think in terms of gender identification and in terms of associated behavior with historical time periods, these women were often the caregivers in their domestic settings. Women born in the late 1920's and 30's were socially defined by childbearing and marriage, as well as their religious commitments and the roles that they played regarding the promotion of their religion.
Yet, these same seniors may not recognize their adult children's faces or remember how many children that they had. Most do remember that they had children, but they can't put their finger on who they were or are, exactly.
While stating that, it is also true that some of the seniors remember more than others regarding their personal history. Also, that sometimes, for those with more advanced dementia, memories surface regarding spouses and households that..well, a visual image just popped into my head...are like clouds...visible and with form one minute...dispersing and reshaped the next. Or. all together absent.
Still, another tributary of thought regarding this feeds off, some openly grieve, weeping on and off, about their spouse's death or the loss of their own parents. Also, some express anger and disappointment regarding their inability to simply care for themselves or others. Anger and frustration being another means of expressing grief - they have lost their independence, and too, their identity (the degree of this loss is defined by what stage of dementia they have reached). They express feelings of uselessness. They grow depressed and withdraw. In one case, here at The Bridge, a simple, kind act by a senior suffering from those same feelings, evolved into a daily act. This act has given her a role, a sense of purpose and an opportunity to care for others. Too, she is now more active and appears happier.
She had in her purse two things that pertained to eyeglasses, besides a pair of them also. She had the felt eyeglass case she sewed with me a few months ago and she had an eyeglass cleaning cloth that she kept inside its original, plastic envelope. This little, grey cloth became a key to re-establishing her as a caregiver amongst her senior peers.
However, she had previously tried to assist those in their walkers to the bathroom and such, yet she was told repeatedly by myself and other staff that she may not assist them as they could fall and get hurt. She needed to have an activity that did not put those that she wanted to care for in a perilous position. The cloth worked.
Everyday, now, this particular senior is provided the opportunity and the time to clean the eyeglasses of her fellow seniors. She walks from one to the next asking if she can do this task for them. They all always agree. She does the same routine every time.
Wait...I am getting red in the face writing this and my eyes are watering...ooops. There is no place at work for me to reveal my emotions. It is the same in the Montessori classroom when you view a child working with such dedication and concentration that you come to understand what the phrase "the spirituality of work" truly means, as you in fact witness it. I have stepped out of my classroom on many such occasions so as to wipe tears from my eyes and then stepped back in so as to quietly continue observing the work. My emotions have no place in either The Bridge or the Classroom. Yet, beauty is everywhere, as is inspiration. This woman's "work" is both beautiful and inspirational.
She does the same routine every time... She takes the glasses being handed to her from another, holds them up to the light and slowly shakes her head left to right. "How can you see. These really need cleaning. I will do it. These will be so clean when I am done. Just wait. Let me do a good job."
She carefully unfolds the cloth again. She refolds and folds it each time she walks from one senior to the next. She leans over the lenses and rubs the cloth on the glass, again and again. After she has spent a few minutes cleaning, she holds them back up to the light, "That is so much better. Here, they are clean now, but let me know if you need me to clean them again. It's no problem, really." She then refolds the cloth and walks over to the next eyeglass wearing peer. When all of the eyeglasses have been cleaned, she places the folded cloth back into its plastic case and returns it to her purse.
This Practical Life Activity is repeated everyday. Actually, last week her plastic case went missing. All of the seniors started looking for it. She became very agitated and accused one of taking it. After about 10 minutes, it was found on the floor under a table. She apologized to the individual she accused. They calmly said to her, "You do a good job cleaning our glasses, yes you do. I am glad you found your case." This brief "hunt" demonstrated how significant this individual act has become not just to the one who does it, but to the entire community.