By Jeremy Le
Today, one of the residents in my facility passed away. She went peacefully and not unexpectedly. But as I gathered with Leonora’s family in their grief, another part of my brain was already loudly reminding me, “We need to get this bed filled. Gratitude doesn’t keep the doors open. People are counting on you.”
Personal care facilities can be very personal. Assisted living on the scale we offer, family-sized and intimate, has challenges and rewards based in that intimacy. When someone passes, the whole fabric of the family changes. Still, my first task was to lie to my other residents about a gas leak, so they wouldn’t see the mortician rolling Leonora away. But did I do the right thing? Is it my place to protect them from being upset when someone they loved died?
What Is Kindness – How Far Do We Go?
I struggled with the same kind of choice when Erma’s adult son died of cancer. Should I tell her that her only child had died and risk the spiral of her depression and worsening illness?
Is it a kindness that I tell James his wife will be along shortly, even though she passed away several years ago? It must be, because the alternative is knowing he will suffer that loss all over, and then ask me tomorrow if I know where she is.
When someone is very close to the end of life, in miserable pain and constant confusion, it is still my duty to delay the inevitable. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the difference between postponing death and prolonging suffering.
My role and my passion is to help make people well, make them happy, make them comfortable. But residents remain in my care in the last days, or the worst days, when none of those pleasant experiences may really be possible. We just do the best we can. And when we can no longer comfort the dying, we comfort the grieving.
I try to balance the need for dignity, and the need to say goodbye, and the need to call the next person on my waiting list.
In senior care and housing, kindness is at the core of our business. With an illness as cruel as dementia, some days it’s hard even to know what kindness looks like.
*Note: Post was written early in my senior housing career and names have been changed to protect privacy.