If you volunteer in a care home for any length of time you are inevitably going to come face to face with loss, as we spend time with people in the sunset of their lives. This was brought home to me this week. I have been visiting Joan (not her real name) who has dementia, for over 18 months. I am her only visitor and everything I know about her has come out of our chats over that time (plus extra research I have done on google), as she has no family that she is in contact with. I’ve grown very fond of Joan, who by all accounts has lived an independent and rather eccentric life. She often shouts at staff in her frustration of wanting to live at home, but has warmed to me and even though she doesn’t always know from week to week who I am, I always sense a recognition in her eyes that I am someone she has a good relationship with.
Over the last 2 months I have a seen a considerable decline in Joan’s physical and cognitive functioning. She is no longer able to tell me any stories from her past. I used to be able to prompt her and she would continue the rest of the story, but now I find myself recounting her stories back to her, reminding her of who she is.
This week was the worst I have seen her and I came away feeling so sad: sad for Joan that her physical and cognitive functioning has declined so much, sad that she is so unhappy and sad for the loss of our relationship, that we can no longer chat and laugh as we used to. And also frustrated at my own inadequacy to really make a difference to her situation.
I suspect I am not the only volunteer who has felt like this and I want to open up the conversation. Has anyone felt like this? How do you deal with it? I guess writing this blog is part of my attempt to process my thoughts and feelings, along with writing a journal. There is always the choice to stop visiting, but somehow that seems more of a running away than a processing of loss.
So at the moment I am digging deeper and thinking of more creative ways to connect with Joan, as her ability to converse diminishes. She has not come across as tactile up till now so my usual ideas around hand massages and touch don’t seem so appropriate. But she does like classical music so perhaps we can listen to that together and it may soothe her agitation.
Loss will be inevitable as Joan’s disease progresses but I want to journey with her through this valley until the ultimate sunset of her passing. And perhaps feeling that sometimes along the way I was able to bring a little light to her darkness and a little calm to her agitation will help me to process my own sadness.