Paying my respects to clients who died last year

Posted on July 9, 2017

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As part of my role, I work out of a day program once a week. I provide support to people living with dementia (PLWD) and their families through a partnership with a community agency. Over the last two years, I have formed a bond with many of them and you might have read some of my posts too. Unfortunately, at least six of them have passed away in the last year. Dementia is brutal. To the person, the family / friends and yes, even staff who provide professional support.

Families often don’t recognize the role professional staff pay. I am sure they don’t know I exist and had a relationship with their family member. Sometimes, we are not even informed when the person transfers to a long-term care facility, or dies even. It is like we don’t count. But we do.

Here is my attempt to pay homage to those I lost over the last year – short eulogies that provide legitimacy to our relationship and thereby my grief. All names have been changed to protect privacy.

Lou*: Lou was a classy, sassy woman with intelligent eyes, round-rimmed glasses, pearls and red lipstick. Her long black coat made her look like a woman about town. We often spent time in quiet solitude, her sipping her coffee and me sipping chai. We read the newspaper together or looked out the window as the world rolled by. Lou knew she experienced hallucinations. Sometimes she asked me, “Is there a man there, or am I seeing things again?” We’d laugh about it. There was no visible sign that Lou was near the end. I hope she went in peace. Hope to share a coffee with you same day in heaven, Lou!

Elle*: Elle was English. You could spot the British in her from a distance. She sat like a lady, her legs crossed. Impeccable taste in jewlery, we often showed off our coveted pieces. Elle, her rings, me my necklaces. Elle loved Dean Martin. Some days, only he could lift her from one of her grouchy moods. “That’s amore,” was her favourite. She’d always get up and dance to that. I lost contact with Elle when she moved to long-term care. The week she was going to move, she talked to me a whole lot about being scared but ready. It’s funny; I hadn’t known that she was moving to a long-term care, so I thought she was having a premonition about her death. But that makes me feel fortunate. I got a chance to say good bye in person. A few months later, Elle died. She was 93.

Jay*: The oldest person I have ever had a long-term association with, Jay was 95 when I met him. He proudly told everyone his age and how he could do everything by himself. Jay had late-onset Frontotemporal Dementia, which made him make sexual comments to women. While he was feared and avoided, we managed to form a sweet working relationship for a year. We spent at least a few hours each week. You can read more about Jay here. It’s been a year since Jay died and I still think of him every week when I got to the program.

Lou Green*: Lou was already in the late stages when I met her. She would sit quietly in her wheelchair, head bowed to one side. She spent a lot of time sleeping by herself. I would spend some time with her each week. I would massage her hand or rub her shoulders. She hardly ever responded. Then one day I figured out, she loved saying hi. I would say, “Hi Lou,” a few hundred times a day and at least a couple of times she would open her eyes and smile at me. It was enough for me. Lou, you are greatly missed.

Michael*: Michael was a funny and jovial guy. When I first met him, he told me he was a retired cop. I always asked him to tell me stories from his days as a cop. He would always say, “It is all the past.” It was months, I promise months later that I found out that he had never been a cop! That’s the kind of guy he was. I think of it as him creating a different life. I miss your smile and always saying, “I’m fine, now that I have seen you!”

Jared*: The man with the golden voice, Jared sang beautifully. He was always the star of our singalongs. He could sing any genre. It was endearing to see even the other attendees, often with dementia, would point to him and ask him to sing. Jared told me he had made many mistakes in his life. He had not been a good father or husband. He said that his family didn’t want to spend time with him, but he understands. I couldn’t believe what he was saying because at the program he was the nicest, gentlest and sweetest. Great conversationalist. Towards the end of his life, he was quiet. Smiling, but very quiet. I missed his singing. I hope he is entertaining others with his beautiful voice up in heaven!

I feel this is an important post to write. Not only does it help me to express my professional grief healthily and achieve closure, but it also highlights that people living with dementia can contribute and have meaningful relationships at every step if we take the time to understand and connect.

If you are a front line staff person and have other coping mechanisms, I encourage you to share your ideas with others.

Thank you for reading!

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