Monday, December 14, 2020

The Home Away From Home

This post is merely a brief summary to help get you caught up on some of what went on around here. There will be other equally scintillating tales to follow.

Sometimes I need a distraction. I am going to go out on a limb and guess that at some point in the last nine months you have needed one (or far beyond double digits) as well? It was June, so three months into bumping into the same four walls and three people. We were one month past my son's bittersweet driveway college graduation and knee deep into his unsuccessful attempts to put that newly minted engineering degree to work. We had become more proficient at the weekly zoom calls with my grandmother, but longed for the simplicity of just sitting next to her. I had tried to restore some order around the house in a Tazmanian Devil type of frenzy. Sewing masks had become disenchanting as the fabric started to lose its charm as the novelty wore off. I panicked. 

My temporary job at an insurance company was drawing to a close, and while I had applied for a permanent position there, I was having a hard time mustering up any enthusiasm about it. I needed to feel more useful in the face of the pandemic, put a different skill set to work maybe. I applied for a position at a nursing home as an activity leader, including a very matter of fact cover letter that explained how my life experiences positioned me as qualified for the job in ways my resume may not have conveyed. I was quickly granted an interview, and offered the job hours after that meeting. It is almost amusing to me now as I look back on just what my state of mind must have been when I accepted the offer...for less money per hour than if I was starting at Dunkin Donuts, that would necessitate being tested for covid once a week, working every other weekend and some holidays, in a germ factory, oftentimes surrounded by a general sense of hopelessness. 

Maybe I thought I was going to save the world, or at the very least, my sanity? In an ironic twist, I was assigned to the dementia unit. I was able to accept that none of the residents were my grandmother, but that did not mean that I was not willing to play the part of their granddaughter. I found people who would tolerate my singing, be content just walking hand in hand with me, comment on my weight/hairdo/outfit with no filter. I gave my best. The rewards were typically small and personal with no gold stars, but I was convinced that I had found something I was good at. I was not blind to the parallels running in my life, and not just because I literally had to drive by my grandmother's facility on my way to work. In some ways it just made me want to run even harder trying to not only find joy for myself, but to bring whatever spark I could think of to my newfound friends. I also kept trying to find the humor, no matter how dark it could be, to bring those stories home to my family since I was the only one leaving the house. I kept wanting to share the stories here, but often worried I wouldn't be able to translate them well to print.

I think I started to get burnt out about four months in. The schedule was not great, the families were growing weary as the virtual visits fell short of filling the void, sundowning started even earlier with the time change and less daylight, and even figurative bright spots in the day were quickly cast over by shadows. As one nurse simply stated, it was sucking the life out of us. I hate cliches, so it bothered me to feel like I was falling into, or becoming one. I tried to rally with some autumn craft ideas, and then tried to keep my game face on when the supplies started to disappear less than an hour after I put them on tables, or the bulletin board was disheveled after one swipe by somebody in a mood. I did not want to give up, and could not fathom how I would walk away.

When my grandmother died, there was a part of me that wanted to march right back into work and make a valiant attempt to do SOMETHING for SOMEONE, but there was also a part of me that wanted to run screaming from the building. One week after my grandmother's funeral, I was on my way to work when I got the phone call that my covid test for that week had come back positive. Maybe some of those mild symptoms the week before that were easily explained away by stress and allergies amounted to something. I had no choice but to turn the car around and go home to hide under my covers in "isolation". I had to stop. I had to sit with the fact that my elderly dementia person was gone, and maybe it was time to close the chapter of my life, at least temporarily, that dealt with that diagnosis.  I did not return to work, and I am strangely okay with that.

*It is my assumption that I contracted covid at work as it had finally entered our facility, and I had spent time with some of those residents, while wearing a mask, before their test results had come. I had been able to overcome most of my fears and felt adequately protected until that phone call came. Having to tell my family, especially my children who I am supposed to protect, that I tested positive was awful. My daughter tested positive as well (she had been home from school a mere twenty-one hours for the funeral). We both had very mild symptoms, and I am grateful every day for that. It was very scary and I did not think I could go back to work and keep that risk factor in my life, as well as attempting to appropriately grieve while doing so.


  1. Oh friend. So many layers here.
    First some humor- you should have applied to work at Dunkin' Donuts. Think of the perks!
    But here is the part that you didn't say- those people in that nursing home were so lucky to have you. Those patients whose lives you touched? Your spirit is so bright on this Earth, anyone who comes into your world whether it is in person or online is better for having be in your presence.

    I hate that your sweet grandmother had to leave you during all of this. I hate that you didn't get to be around her as much near the end. I hate that you got COVID. But I am so glad she had you as a granddaughter. I am so glad that you have those memories and those pictures of the visits with her. And I am so glad you and your family is healthy again. And I hope you continue to share your pictures of your grandma on this blog to honor her.

    Love you, my sweet friend.

    1. Oh friend, thank you for the light and encouragement you always are!!! Much love

  2. BEEN IN YOUR PRESENCE. Dammit. This is why I will never get a book published.

    1. It is exactly why you will-because you keep t real and typos are a very real fact of life

  3. Wow. You've been through it. This was both sad and beautiful to read; you are trying to help those in honor of your Grandmother, that is big and it screams that you have have a huge heart.
    I do hope that you and your family stay healthy now and can reflect on the love you shared with your Grandmother.

  4. Hi Andrea, I'm popping over from Kari's blog. That must've been so hard to work with the elderly people with dementia, but I'm sure you were the bright light in their days. I'm sorry to hear about the passing of your grandmother though, and that you and your daughter also got Covid. So much to process and go through. Hope you are feeling better now and that you can somewhat enjoy your holiday. This has been quite a year for all of us.