Thursday, 29 March 2012

The small miracle of influence

In the twelve plus years I have worked with the elderly, I have been touched by amazing people. My heart is filled with their stories, both funny and touching, and the ways they have influenced my life. Like having a hundred grandparents, I am rich with the gifts each of them has given me.

In all the people, and all the experiences, there was none so precious as Miss S. I said good-bye to her last August, and I miss her every day. I wish I could kneel by her wheelchair and tell her about the joy in my life. Her mouth would form an "Ohhhh", her eyes would sparkle and she would give me her brilliant smile. We would hug, and she would want to know every detail.

I remember the day I first met Miss S. And even the week before she died, she remembered it, too.

       It was during my first year at Christie Gardens, just before Easter. I was working in our dementia unit, and ran out of some essential ingredient for hot cross buns. With a room full of residents waiting for me, I didn’t have time to run to the grocery store, so flew to the tiny store in the building. Miss S. was shopping, and in her typical friendly, interested-in-everyone manner, she asked me what I was doing. That led to a discussion of hot cross bun making methods, and eventually, an exchange of recipes. It also led to a special friendship that lasts until today.
       Within the next year, she suffered a major stroke that took her to hospital and rehab, and eventually back to our first floor care sections. Miss S. was a fighter, and this loss of independence was difficult for her. I visited with her during admission, and she expressed her frustration at not being able to dress herself or take care of her most basic needs. Like many stroke victims, she cried easily, especially during those first days. She fought hard to walk again, and to be as independent as possible. Again and again, her spirit rose to the top, even when her body was dragging behind.
       Miss S. was a great cook, and when she could no longer actively participate, she loved to be a part of cooking and baking activities. She would advise us, and if we were doing it wrong, she would inform us in no uncertain terms. She hated that I sometimes wouldn’t measure ingredients precisely, and would give me “THE LOOK”. The look was a piercing, we-are-not-amused stare that could be intimidating. When Miss S. didn’t like what you were doing, she made it clear. Sometimes, I would tease her about it, and then she would break into the most beautiful grin. Miss S.’s grin lit up a room like nothing else could. And if what I said tickled her, she would start to laugh, and then she would snort. There were many times when a disapproving look ended in a laugh and a snort.
       Miss S. loved hugs, which was handy, because I loved to give them to her. Often when I came to work in the morning, she would be sitting by the desk, and we would have a hug before I even punched in. I don’t know about her, but it made my day. There’s an empty spot by the desk now.
       The day I came back from work after my husband died, Miss S. was waiting at the desk for me. I knew that was going to be a hard day, and when she saw me, she burst into tears. I of course, joined her, and knelt by her chair while we let the storm pass. After a few minutes, I leaned back and looked at her and said, “Well, you’re not helping!” At that point, she grinned and snorted, and we both had a great laugh. The rest of that difficult day was better because of my time with Miss S.
       She loved my granddaughter. Nothing could bring a smile to her face and an excited “Oooooh!” than to hear Hannah was coming to visit. She would dote on her, and the feeling was mutual. “She’s a pet!” she would exclaim to me for days after.
       There were many times when Miss S. became ill, and I wondered if this was the end. Each time left her a little weaker, but she fought back. I always knew that when the last day came, it would be a difficult one for me. I always dreaded it.
       During her last illness, I went in to visit a few times, and she didn’t know me. I wondered if I would be able to say good-bye, or if she would just drift away. In the last week of her life, I received a special gift.
       I went into her room, and said her name, and this time she opened her eyes. I said, “It’s Ann.” and her face lit up with recognition. She gave her brilliant smile.
       I gave her a hug, and told her, “I came in to tell you I love you.”
       She held my hand, looked into my eyes and said, “I love you.”
       Because it was Miss S., and we were like that with each other, I let the tears fall as we talked. “Do you remember the hot cross buns?” She chuckled. There wasn’t enough energy for a snort this time, but she was amused. We talked for a few more minutes, and then I told her that I had a program to run. In typical Miss S. fashion, she flapped her hand at me, as if to say, “Go!”
       “I smoothed back her beautiful hair, and said, “I’ll come and see you again.” Then I paused. I didn’t know that for sure. I added, “But if I don’t, I’ll see you in heaven.” Again, she looked in my eyes and said, “Yes.”
       That was the last time I saw Miss S. But she will be with me always. Every time I eat a fresh “to-mah-to” (which must never be put in the fridge) or put an ingredient in a recipe without measuring...or eat a hot cross bun...I will be thankful for the influence she had on my life. 

Although I wish I could kneel by her wheelchair and tell her of my joy, I know  she is where no wheelchairs are needed. She is walking freely, smiling hugely, laughing  and snorting.

 And...she knows. 

Has there been someone in your life whose influence has been a small miracle?

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