Karen's Quest with Karen Smith
I often wonder what it will be like to grow old. Will I find myself succumbing to the potent, dark seduction of some brain disease, losing my grip on reality with a numb, and silent fear? Will I be shunted from one meal to another with a faraway stare, being fed various purees as my hands lay loosely in my lap? Maybe not, maybe I’ll be a beloved aunt or grandmother; visiting family and sharing stories, wisdom and laughter. Who knows?
For many years I cared for infirm, elderly people. Among the most challenging tasks for me was feeding people who couldn’t feed themselves and who didn’t seem to want to eat. Though I didn’t do this a great deal, and it was a long time ago, I’m still pained by it. I felt like I wasn’t respecting the person I was serving and I didn’t know how to ask for help to identify the wishes of someone who couldn’t seem to communicate. And it was already normal procedure by the time I came along. My job was simply to dress people and process them through the routine of the day whether they knew it or not, whether they liked it or not. I wasn’t hurting anyone, but in too many cases I felt sure I wasn’t helping them.
One thing that made it difficult was that I didn’t have any respect for routine at that time. In my own life, I didn’t know that there was wisdom in carrying on with breakfast, lunch and supper if you didn’t feel like it. My heart still can’t grasp forcing someone through a routine for whom the routine is no benefit. Wouldn’t it be better if we held hands and looked out the window? I think it’s against policy to turn on soft music and lay down with residents.
To me though, if you want to lie down and die, I don’t want to force you to do anything different. If you want to stop, I want to stop with you. I don’t think I’m necessarily right about sidestepping routine for the elderly who are no longer self-propelled. But I do wonder if the daily grind is too much sometimes. I wonder if imposing it on the weak and vulnerable without end is too much pressure. Is there time in the day of a shift worker to give a delicate, aging person a break? Could a reprieve be penciled into the routine? I just hope, when my turn comes, someone will have the compassion and the flexibility to let me spend a day in my housecoat looking out the window, listening to soft music.
Karen Smith is on a quest for personal truth and boundless consciousness. She feels lucky to live with her family in Truemanville. Her column appears bi-weekly in the Amherst News.