It seems impossible to get through a week, or sometimes even a day, without some horrific news breaking. Acts of violence and terrorism creating a world in which none of us feel safe, none of us feel secure and all of us fear for our loved ones and ourselves. There is no logic, no predictability and it has caused all of us to feel insecure and vulnerable. That is just the reality of the world in which we live.
Yet I can’t help but contrast that with the world in which I spend the majority of my time — the world of elder care services. There is nothing easy about caring for frail older adults. Their needs are complex and often difficult to meet. Disease and the aging process may change personality, heighten anxiety, diminish abilities and limit communication. Yet what I see every day is ongoing compassion, care and support. What I see every day is a diverse workforce that unites around one clear goal — to provide optimal quality of life for each of those individuals.
Am I painting an overly rosy picture of services for older adults? I will grant you that not every caregiver is perfect and not every interaction is flawless. But when I look around at this challenging work, I see that– in my setting and in others — dedication to caring is the overarching principle. The aide who tenderly holds the hand of an agitated individual, the therapist who walks behind the struggling patient making sure they are safe as they maneuver down the hall, the nurse who stops and crouches down to hear whispered words or just connect face to face, these are far more the norm than the exception.
Last week in the wake of another episode of senseless killing, it seemed to me that the real love that our staff bring to work every day is, in our environment, the antidote to what’s happening in the world around us. In our sheltered spaces, there is light in the darkness—it’s a light that comes from those who have devoted their lives to older adults; it’s a light that comes from work that is often thankless yet always appreciated; it’s a light that comes from caring for those who can no longer care for themselves.
There are those who have asked all of us how we can do the work we do, wondering “isn’t it depressing?” to work with individuals who are closer to the end of life than to the beginning. I always respond that “we get a gift” from these people every day. Whether it is a smile, a kiss on the cheek, a story shared, all of it has meaning and value.
I am grateful for the light where I see it — in the faces of our residents and in the hearts of our staff, volunteers and supportive community. In the midst of such darkness, we must all seize the light where we find it, recognize it and appreciate it.