Dignity, part 2:  Honouring and respecting the sacrifices care givers make

Jan. 13/18

In my Jan. 8 blog on dignity, I offered this definition:   “the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect”.  Some of the amazing family caregivers out there are sure worthy of our honour and respect for what they give of themselves in the process of caring for seniors…here is a powerful example I received recently from an incredible daughter:

“I was the sole care taker of my Mom when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer…. I had already uprooted my children, moved in with her, stopped working and provided her with her wish to pass at home. She refused care from agencies, as she felt her privacy was being invaded…It truly was a beautiful experience to be with her at every moment, and I did provide all aspects of care. Including cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, driving to appointments, nursing, sleeping very little to none…and providing nursing care and aiding with all aspects of daily living.  I aspired to be everything to everyone. A wonderful mother to my sons, a loving daughter that my mother would be proud of and a live in nurse. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but I cannot lie that it was challenging at times, and I often wondered if I had the strength to play so many roles in life and death for my mother and my children. God bless my mother and so many people that choose to live at home and pass away at home.”

Sometimes these unbelievable daughters and sons don’t feel very worthy of honour and respect because they want to be their best at ALL moments for ALL the roles they are trying to fill…please help me remind them that what makes them worthy of dignity is the loving sacrifice they are making day after day…just BEING there with whatever they have to give that day…period. Let them know how precious they are.


Show me some dignity…

Jan 8.18

The core values of Better Ways For Seniors are dignity, independence and personal choice.  Over the coming weeks I’ll be reflecting on each of those with you in various ways, starting this week with dignity, which is often defined as “the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect”.  Whenever I am interviewing prospective care providers, I always ask them to tell me what they think “dignity” means to a senior.  You might ask why I don’t simply ask them what they think dignity means…period. It turns out that when it comes to dignity, seniors might actually have different priorities than those who are caring for them.

A 2013 article in BMC Geriatrics (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3614439) in which health and social work professionals were surveyed “described the meaning of dignified care in terms of their relationships with patients: ‘respect’ (47%), ‘being treated as an individual’ (40%), ‘being involved in decision making’ (26%) and ‘privacy’ (24%).   In contrast, the article goes on to show that while seniors themselves may agree that those 4 areas are aspects of dignity, they would typically not rank them as high as “the basic and vital aspects of care such as eating, nutrition, personal hygiene and toileting.”

I’d love to hear from YOU…what do you think dignity means to a senior?  Is that also what it means to you?

Grateful for a share of the “PIE”…

Jan. 2/18
I want to take this opportunity to do a shout out to Partners in Employment (PIE) in Perth County…they have been an amazingly supportive and helpful organization throughout these past weeks as I have started to put together the team of care providers committed to making a difference in the lives of seniors in Huron and Perth. What started out as a simple conversation with Executive Director Deb Hotchkiss at a networking breakfast at the River Valley Golf and Country Club has resulted in an incredible source of candidates for Better Ways For Seniors. Deb and her staff take the time to get to know their clients, and carefully match them up with the employers that will best help those clients fulfill their employment goals.
Although I have had people from other sources express some interest in applying to join our team, it is PIE that has directly or indirectly referred over 90% of the individuals I’ve interviewed. I would happily have offered every one of those candidates a place on my team. I am proud and grateful to be a part of Perth County where that is the kind of support you can expect, whether you are a prospective candidate, or the one looking to add to your team!

So much more than just some quirky habits…

Dec. 30/17

On Dec. 21 (In the Valley of the Shadow of Death) I told you about a couple I was helping to support who’ve been told they are dying.  On more than 1 occasion since, I’ve been struck by how the husband, whose wife may only have days to live, still clings so strongly to his routines, even during such a time of upheaval.  Detailed, step by step instructions about how to make his eggs, how to heat his hot cross bun, how to heat his soup….

It suddenly occurred to me that in this period of personal chaos, where so much about his own future and that of his wife seem totally out of his control, that these routines allow him to feel that there are still at least some areas in which he can feel he is still “calling the shots”.  For seniors who can experience so many losses in their latter years, we need to be mindful how essential their apparent “need to control” may be in helping them cope with those losses.

In the valley of the shadow of death…

Dec. 21/17

I am currently part of a team of caregivers whose efforts are making it possible for a couple, just celebrating 50 years of marriage, who have each just been told that they don’t have long to live, to stay together in their beloved home a little longer.  It is a profoundly moving experience to be allowed to share in that process.  When your care needs are such that you always need at least one person around to assist, there is not a lot of opportunity to have private moments.

One minute I might be cutting up an avocado for their supper meal, and the very next the wife is telling me how she hopes her husband will outlive her, because she does not want to live without him…how she wishes he would relinquish control of the finances, so that if she does in fact live longer than him, that she will have at least some knowledge of how to manage their affairs…meanwhile, the husband sets aside his own shock about how quickly he is deteriorating, so that he can give his wife her insulin treatment, because her hands are no longer steady enough to do it.

I am in awe of the grace with which they are traveling this final journey.  I am humbled to have the opportunity to play some small part…

Embracing our “fellow passengers” this Christmas…

Dec. 20/17

Please indulge me the opportunity to take one more lesson from “A Christmas Carol”, this time compliments of CBC’s “The Current”.  Today host Anna Maria Tremonti was interviewing author Judith Flanders about some surprising aspects of our Christmas traditions.  When speaking about the Charles Dickens classic, Flanders pointed out that the real lesson of Christmas was not Scrooge spending his way into making up for previous miserliness.  Rather, the character Dickens uses to communicate what Dickens wanted us to take away was Scrooge’s nephew, who very early on in the story says to Scrooge:

“I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creature bound on other journeys.”

While we here in Canada do not have to overcome centuries of the ‘above’ and ‘below’ class structure of a Dickens England, we are nonetheless well reminded to count those around us as all on the same journey…this Christmas, take an extra moment to show compassion to your “fellow passengers”!

The Gift they call the Present

Dec. 18/17
Yesterday I had the opportunity to be in the audience at an amazing rendition of “A Christmas Carol” at Thamesview United Church in Fullarton. I was surprised to find that the story took on new meaning for me in the context of the new role that I am in, providing services to seniors.  While I certainly have not had the experience of meeting any Scrooge-like clients to date, I have found that like Scrooge inquiring of the ghost of Christmas Present, seniors often wonder whether they will see another Christmas after the current one.

For the most part, it has been my experience that seniors are great teachers about how to live in the present moment. Because they may perceive their futures as being relatively uncertain, and perhaps because of a lifetime of becoming wiser, they seem to become a  increasingly adept at living each day for what that day can offer.  This Christmas, try to be open to receiving that gift from the seniors around you!

First aid…not just for the body!

Dec. 17/17

“If I sprain my ankle, chances are you will know what to do. If I have a panic attack, chances are you won’t.”  That’s the message you’ll see on the home page of Mental Health First Aid Canada (www.mentalhealthfirstaid.ca).  I have to confess I did not know about this resource until we were having dinner with a good friend tonight.  She was asking me what kinds of topics I planned to cover in training for care providers in Better Ways For Seniors, and asked if I had considered this course.

The website describes the content of their basic course (12 hours) this way:

MHFA Basic is intended for adults interacting with adults (18 years and older). This course focuses on the four most common mental health disorders including substance related, mood related, anxiety and trauma related, and psychotic disorders. Participants who take this course are well prepared to interact confidently about mental health with their family, friends, communities, and workplaces.”  If any of you have taken this program or a related program, I would love to hear from you as part of the planning process for our training!

My team has an “angel” on it…

Dec. 16/17
A week ago today I told you about the passing of one of my clients…since that time his daughter has asked me to continue visiting her mother who lives in the same long term care home, and to bring my dog each time I come, since her mother loves dogs. I returned 3 days ago for the first time since her father passed away with our canine “angel” Malaika (whose name literally means “angel” in Swahili!). I walked by my previous client’s room and noticed that someone else had already moved in…it was clearly just the circle of life happening, but it brought a new brief wave of sadness nonetheless as I reflected on the loss that those left behind were feeling in these days.
I’m glad to know that my new visits with Malaika may help to fill a small part of that void. Malaika has already received many loving caresses from some of the residents at this home; for the one resident who has memory impairment, she experienced Malaika as a wonderful “new” visitor in her life at least half a dozen times in the space of 10 minutes, each time with the joy that can usually only be found in seeing something for the very first time…we all have opportunities to show compassion to others each day and the ripples of that can fortunately continue even after someone passes away…

Survey says…!

Dec. 15

2 days ago I asked for your help in brainstorming with me where you would go or how you think people might best find out about services for seniors in their homes.  I’m delighted to say that you had lots of ideas and here they are!

Internet searches (#1 suggestion)


Word of mouth

The Coffee News publication

Car magnet

Other magnets

Family doctor

Other health care providers

Trade shows

Display tables at conferences

Advertise in community leisure guides

Seniors associations


Seniors advocacy offices

Providers of adaptive equipment and adapted clothing


Thanks to all of you for your input…I’ll keep you posted on how we do!