Day 1: Love people, use things.
Visiting apartments that make you wish you had the capacity to hold your breath for 15 minutes at a time is humbling. Wading through the piles of old stuffed animals, piles of old grocery advertisements, stacks of loose pictures without names, dusting clocks, glass bottles, and only to realize there’s also a downstairs. It’s heartbreaking to see a person with so many things, living alone, who doesn’t even know the stories behind the things he stares at everyday. What’s even more heartbreaking is that the son who does care for his ageing father doesn’t realize how far away his father has become. He assumes there’s a reason his father leaves 2 knives and a saw by the entrance door, and there’s probably another story behind why there’s an apartment advertisement taped onto the floor. It feels chaotic, messy, and cluttered in there, but I can only imagine how it feels to slowly empty his mind full of memories, and try to cover up that wound with things, sweets, and humor.
A lot of faces, a lot of loneliness, a lot of ignorance from their loved ones, a lot of selfishness revealing itself in different ways. I felt more motivated than ever to 1. go home and clear out my apartment 2. live out my priorities, make sure the people who I admire and love know that and 3. come back to work the next day and learn new ways of how to let these people know that they are loved. Maybe 4. would be to tell the young people around me that the crap they’re working so hard to collect is so so sad. It’s important to see these things from a different perspective- from your grandma’s perspective, from an older self, from your dad’s perspective, getting older should mean growing in relationships not collecting more things.
Day 2: our bodies are temples
I looked into many eyes that were less confused, but for that reason, also more heartbroken. I had less patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and more with muscular deterioration, old age, ALS, humbling, humbling… Watching an elderly man, living at home, all dressed up in a tie, wool sweater, with a fresh haircut who takes pride in fastening his belt. I never thought that helping someone– who is still totally there mentally, but stuck in a body that’s not at all connected to his strength in wisdom and experience–would make me want to cry, but at the same time, not take for granted one trip to the bathroom on my own! Not take for granted any day I can go out and buy my own groceries. Our bodies are truly temples, and it’s sad to see youth- or even elderly mock that and take our bodies for granted.
On the second day, I was welcomed by so many people who loved the assistant I was shadowing. How much JOY I saw in their faces to have a loving woman, who also had recently learned Swedish, coming to take care of them. I feel honored to be able to share some of my joy, love, humility, peace with these people living in what feels like a trapped scenario.
I came home and cried and cried as I retold stories to Alex about these people I had met, these families who are so distant from their elderly loved ones who ONLY talk about their grandkids with so much pride, elderly people telling jokes only to hide what they’ve forgotten.
I may have caught a cold from one of the patients, or I may have just been emotionally, mentally, and physically tired from two full days. I was heartbroken. Not only for the elderly people, but the people around me in town–who walk around town in their fancy outfits, a look of disgust on their face, avoiding eye-contact, who can’t wait to get home and watch their show. I can’t describe how much I felt for them! I definitely had to laugh with Alex how often I would burst out in tears after a “cheesy” statement like how people aren’t grateful for the life that we have to live! Anyways, the first days hit me hard, so I was in bed on the third day, reflecting on the people I met, and also reflecting on how I can make sure that when I’m at that age, or in a condition like ALS, to make sure that I can say I didn’t waste a day or intentionally lose touch with any of my friends or loved ones.
I definitely want you- or any people that I meet- to feel like I love people and I use things, not the other way around.