People change. Mistakes—or bad fortune—carry consequences, but they shouldn’t dictate what you become. You can choose what sort of person you will be even after a life changing event. I learned this from the dying, and it is part of what led me to work with JLongtin Law.
Before I started at JLongtin Law, I worked in home-care. There were two women that I worked with at my last job that really stand out. I remember many of my clients, but these two illustrate the different ways people can change in a manner that will always stick in my mind. As with my work in the legal field, the home-care field is governed by confidentiality, so I will call them Lady A and Lady B. Both lived in assisted living, both had diagnoses that left them in pain and hindered their lifestyles, and both had living family members.
I met Lady A first. She lived in one of the most beautiful assisted living facilities that I have ever worked in and had a large suite all to herself. Her family was living, and very supportive and attentive. She was declining but still had several years ahead of her. As with most home-care clients, her family hired us to assist with the day-to-day things like fall safety and guidance that she could no longer do herself. Lady A did not agree with their assessment. She did not believe that walkers were classy items, it just wouldn’t do if anyone hinted that she could no longer remember things or keep track of time, and she refused to admit that she had any health issues at all. The more you tried to help her, the more she refused to accept her new limitations, pushed the blame on others, locked you (literally) out, called you names and gave you lectures on how badly your parent’s raised you and how you were a horrible person for lying to her when you’d said yesterday (a day you hadn’t worked with her) that you would never do something again, and the more controlling and internally bitter she became.
Lady A had some of the best caregivers in the company working with her, and one by one, they called the office and told them that they would no longer continue their shifts with her. This is hard to do—caregivers are tough people, and they are used to helping people who don’t always want to be helped. They are skilled at making their clients still feel valuable and in control. But at the end of the first six months, I think I was the only person willing to work more than 24 hours with her per week. I was the one she liked and responded to best (according to the facility staff), and even I was filling out job applications during all spare moments. I lasted almost a year before I called the office and said I wouldn’t go any longer.
Conversely, Lady B began as a short shift, a very simple one. I made supper, then we watched British murder mysteries and nature shows while she ate, and I crocheted. She was quite a woman—not a lady in the traditional sense, but a lady worth knowing, nonetheless. A couple of months after I started working with her, I came back from a long leave to discover that she was actively dying. How long she had left, nobody knew. She had already, I discovered, outlived the projected lifespan of her disease by three years.
Unfortunately, this time she wasn’t going to make a miraculous recovery from sheer willpower. Next came the familiar slide downhill. A simple medication reminder changed to stand-by assistance, then mobility assistance with a gait belt. Then there was the wheelchair, and the medical bed. The falls, the difficulty swallowing and eating. The hospice number on the refrigerator.
She had many true friends, the kind that you meet and know are true and deep bonds. If her youngest child couldn’t be there, then her friends were. I met her youngest child—an attentive, caring adult, that was everything you would hope to have in your offspring in your declining years. She had spoken to me about her youngest before, and I had gathered that she was not as close with her older children as with the youngest. It wasn’t until closer to the end that I realized that her oldest children didn’t talk to her anymore. Something she had done in the past had opened a rift between them that was still present.
I learned from speaking with those who had known her longer than I had that she had changed a lot since that time. She apparently had some strong faults of personality and manner back then. I never knew her in her younger years, but the Lady B that I knew was well worth knowing. She kept waiting for her older children to forgive her and come and visit, until finally, she couldn’t wait any longer and started giving her final goodbyes. She gave me my final goodbye in the evening, as I was turning my shift over to the night caregiver. It was a good one. When I came back the next morning, she didn’t remember me.
It was a good thing, a peace that came with forgetting old mistakes and pain. She had lived her last years with grace, dignity, and kindness, and she died with that same grace and a peace many never hope to find.
She was still alive when I was accepted for a position at JLongtin Law with the condition that my work would be part-time until her death. The condition wasn’t necessary, as she died about a week later, before I was set to start work. She was surrounded by true friends and in the company of her youngest child. Her oldest children never did come to see her before she died. It was their loss not to know her, and that is a mistake that they will have to deal with in their own lives.
Lady A and Lady B taught me that life is full of changes, and no matter if they are consequences of prior actions or simple whims of fate, it is the person within those circumstances who decides how to react, and whether or not to accept the assistance of others.
People are never just the sum of their circumstances. This was true of my former clients in home-care, and remains true with the current clients I work with at JLongtin Law.
Written by Joy Weaver, Paralegel