Recently a friend who suffered from Alzheimer’s passed away. It is such a cruel disease and it is happening to more and more as our population ages. Caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s as they are robbed of their memory and identity is full of difficult decisions. Working with them with kindness and love and striving to maintain their dignity is a challenge.
In the end the ethics involving every detail of how to care and when to let go drains the caretakers. The friend I was responsible for had been at the same wonderful facility for four years. He was well known and loved by individuals at his place…”his home.” As these final decisions were being made I realized how deeply they cared and how tough their job was…I knew they respected him and treated him in such a way as to always maintain his dignity.
Yesterday we had a special memorial at the facility for the caretakers. My friend although eventually nonverbal was a social butterfly. He daily made the rounds and stopped to give the caretakers back rubs, little kisses on the cheek and then would lay down on the rug in the middle of the facility and rest. They were never able to break him from doing this. Visitors would be alarmed because they thought someone had fallen. But all would just say we know…he’s ok.
He was an early resident when it first opened up so it seemed he was always part of the caretakers work life. I heard many times how much they miss him. They explained he was the spirit of the facility and now that spirit is gone. What struck me was how much these caretakers needed this time together to remember him.
But I told them I had a different goal. I wanted to introduce them to the man I knew and the one they never knew. I wanted them to know who he was. They were amazed and felt they always knew he was special but now they saw why he was the way he was. What a wonderful gift I was able to give them as a thank you for all their love and care.
I told them how much I appreciated them and that I understood they were not well paid. They all said they love their job. They told me they discuss with their family and friends how they are often the last ones to be with individuals as they die. They were proud that they are there for them.
As I packed up and left I realized something unexpected had happened to me. Their sharing made me feel good and even proud. They said he was the best dressed resident, they knew I always brought everything they asked for to care for him and I was thrilled that in his last year’s they treasured him so. I walked away feeling excited and wonderful. Death with dignity and love is everyone’s goal.