By Marianne Delorey
While in college I worked at a nursing home where I met Mary. Mary had severe dementia and was combative. One day while trying to bring her to the commode, she punched me. Hard. With both fists. In the kidneys. I saw stars.
Cathy was another resident who would lash out. Cathy did not honor social envelopes nor did she know when enough was enough. She would interrupt me without thinking and would talk for hours if left unchecked. Sometimes, if she felt she was being ignored, she would get in my face and say some pretty unkind things.
These residents were hard to like. Of course I understood their behavior was sometimes beyond their control, but I certainly did not want to spend extra time with them. And yet, these are the residents from whom I have learned more about myself then many others.
There is an ancient proverb that says, “A stone does not get polished except through friction, nor a man perfect without trials.” These residents challenged me. They made me think about who I was, what I valued and what I could be. I thought I was kind. Cathy accused me of being selfish. I thought I was good with the elderly. Mary made it clear what she thought of my skill set. I thought I was patient, and yet when I saw these ladies, I would find other things I needed to do rather than be with them.
Some people would argue that “haters gotta hate” or that we shouldn’t listen to people who are critical of us because they are just knocking us down for no reason. But that belief may not offer the full story.
Those who would disagree with you offer you the most opportunity for growth. I have since learned other skills to help me work with people with dementia. I have learned that there are limits to my patience, what triggers my limits, and how to set boundaries for people who would test those limits. In short, I have grown.
Every day we do good. These people, however, remind me that sometimes we just have to do better. It may be good to sit an extra five minutes and listen to someone’s litany of aches and pains. Tomorrow, I strive to listen even longer and not “find” something else more important to do. Today, I may say goodbye to someone who lived at Colony for years. Tomorrow, I will say goodbye and remind them of the impression they left while they were here. This week, I may encourage a family member to contact elder services to see if they can help with the mother’s care. Next week, I vow to set up the meeting myself to make sure they have the resources they need. Today, I thank the staff and caregivers for the good they do every day on behalf of our residents. Tomorrow I ask that you do better.
I hope someday, we get to find ourselves the recipient of the best of others, so why not start now and show people the care we hope to receive.
Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or firstname.lastname@example.org and www.colonyretirementhomes.com.