I’ve never been a very patient person. Even as a child, my parents joked that impatience was my middle name. What can I say? I like instant gratification. I have surprises. I like things done quickly and efficiently. I like a routine that works like a well-oiled machine.
My impatience had worked well for me when I worked in a restaurant. The routine each day was predictable. We’d race to see who could get their closing duties done fastest and neatest. I could do the work in my sleep. I’d pop out the door at 6:00 PM on the dot every day.
I knew at some point I’d get a gut-punch in the name of teaching me patience. Everyone had warned me that someday, I’d really have to slow down and be at ease. I’d have to understand that not everything happens at the light-speed I prefer. In the words of a less-than-kind (but still correct) friend, I’d have to relax and pull the stick out of my … well, you can guess where.
When I started working with the elderly, I hadn’t factored the immense amount of patience it would require. I’d taken the job because I love people, and it had seemed like very meaningful work. Those two facts are still true, but the patience it has taught me was more than I ever expected.
I work primarily with dementia patients, and working with compassion is of the utmost importance. Dementia sufferers live their life in a perpetual state of confusion. Dates, names, places — the wires become crossed and they get befuddled. Sometimes this confusion causes them to believe you are their child or late spouse. Sometimes it causes them to be aggressive and afraid. Patience is literally the greatest gift you can give to someone with memory problems. You’ll hear the same story ten times in an hour. You’ll gently remind them of your name at least twenty times a day. You’ll redirect them away from a phone call they just made, and insist on making again. You’ll come to know their life, their triggers, their fears like the back of your hand.
And what’s more beautiful than that? To know someone’s life in an intimate and intense way, and assist them through their fear and confusion. Being a caregiver isn’t easy. The work is often difficult, emotionally exhausting. The lessons I have learned from it, however, have been invaluable.
I have become a more patient person. I’ve become more forgiving. And I love this person I’ve become! I’m so thankful to my clients for teaching me this lesson and allowing me into their lives.