Treasures Received – Working with the Elderly
For the past several months, I have invited those who work or volunteer with the elderly to participate in video interviews about their experiences. I have been deeply touched by the grace and kindness of those I interviewed. I interviewed housekeepers, dietary staff, maintenance workers, CEO’s and volunteers. One question that I asked in every interview was, “How has working with seniors altered your perspective on life?” Here’s what I learned:
I’m not afraid of my own future. Peace.
This was true of everyone who worked in and around the elderly. I was surprised to hear that people who see the very worst in terms of dementia and care requirements are un-afraid to one day require care themselves. For most of us, there is something terrifying about losing control of your life, your hygiene and your mind. The lack of anxiety in those who work daily with the elderly was clearly a gift of peace for the future.
It is a way of keeping the memory of my grandparents’ alive. Honour.
About one-third of the people who were interviewed referenced their own relationship to their grandparents. These people found that the value of their grandparent(s) and the loss of those cherished relationships – through distance or death – was the catalyst to serving the elderly. For some, their relationships with their grandparents were only in childhood, but had an enduring effect all the way through their adult years.
I’ve learned how to grateful for what I have. Contentment.
Serving the elderly, listening to their stories, hearing about life in “the old days” and seeing how fragile we all are – these are the tools that gave individuals the perspective about what is important and enabled them to enter into thankfulness and contentment in their own lives.
I can make a difference in a stranger’s life. Meaning.
There are times when a stranger can get closer to an elderly person than their own family members. This can be the case when the senior’s personality and character is dramatically altered through dementia or chronic illness. It was deeply meaningful to these individuals that they could “take the person just as they are” without the grief of the person they “used to be” and provide loving care.
I am making new friends – who are old. Friendship.
An unexpected side benefit of working and volunteering with the elderly is that friendships are formed. From the outside, this seems impossible – especially when dementia and other conditions complicate the relationship. The bonus of a give and take friendship seemed to surprise everyone who talked about it – as though they would serve the elderly without this extra gift, but having it was an unexpected treasure.
I am fulfilled. Purpose.
From housekeepers to dietary staff to maintenance staff to nurses, I heard over and over and over again that working with seniors yields a type of fulfillment that is precious. Tears flowed as individuals described how serving a meal, mowing a lawn or cleaning a toilet has been transformed from a task into life calling.
There are many ways that God places His Kingdom and His heart into our hearts – and one of those ways is when we open our lives to the vulnerable and those who need our care. I am reminded of Henri Nowen who left a life of academia to care for a young man with special needs. He says, “You don’t think your way into a new kind of living. You live your way into a new kind of thinking.” When you spend time with the elderly, with your heart wide open to God’s Kingdom, you will not be disappointed in the treasures that you gain.
Sharon Simpson is the Director, Communications and Stakeholder Engagement at Menno Place, a senior’s campus-of-care located in Abbotsford, BC. She regularly writes for Menno Place, The Light Magazine, and the MB Herald.