Written by: Gianna Garrow
Yesterday was a very rough day at work. We lost a wonderful 99-year-old man.
I work in skilled nursing in a nursing home. Yes, there are mostly older, medically compromised people there. It is most likely their permanent, last home. We will fall short, but we try to do our best for them. I hear comments from friends outside of work at times like, “how can you handle it?” or if we lose someone, “Well, they are all going to pass at some point; why are you sad?”
Yes, we get attached. Yes, they pass away. Yes, we know they will at some point. Yes, we still mourn. We mourn in different ways from each other. We mourn together many times. Even when you expect it, you’re human; you are emotional. You’re sad. We grieve together.
My part of being a health care worker is to just make their final years, months, weeks or days as comfortable, gentle as we can. Sometimes it’s the little things we do that make a big difference: a FaceTime call to a distant relative, using that technology with them for the first time; getting them an orange soda; filling a bird feeder outside their room’s window. I had someone this past year go on hospice, and she told her hospice nurse the one thing she wished for was an Italian Ice. I had some in our freezer – only lemon flavor. As I brought her one, I thought about getting her a fresh one from the boardwalk soon; I was disappointed this was all I had to offer. I gave her the supermarket one apologetically and asked if she would like a different flavor, but she was so appreciative I don’t think any other would have surpassed that one. The timing was perfect.
Doing the little we can, we are blessed every day by their thankfulness, love and relationships we get in return, often tenfold. My favorite quote is by Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” Being a caregiver is a special, sacred relationship. We spend so much time with people that we form bonds with, so different from our own outside relationships and, at times, difficult to explain to others. Sometimes we have heartbreak. We move on; we come back tomorrow. I have days where I sit in my car and cry or drive home in silence or prayer. I have many days where my heart is full or a little something someone said to me resonates with me on and on and on.
A couple of weeks ago, Betty White passed away. She was 99 years old. Regarding her passing, many people said, “You know someone is special when they pass away at 99 and the world thinks it wasn’t long enough to have them around.”
Well, we feel that way all the time. We have many “Betty Whites.” The world doesn’t know them, but we do. We learn their history, preferences, careers, and about their families and friends. We have a responsibility to them. We know their time with us may be limited, but they touch our lives, and we are sad to see them go even when we know they are in a better place or out of pain.
We lose our “Betty Whites” every day.
This article was shared in the Asbury Park Press.