I know I nonchalantly mention in my “About Me” that I quit my job to come here like it was an easy, almost impulsive decision, but I totally played it down to sound like a baller. It was honestly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and I cried like a baby. Just this weekend, I woke myself up in the middle of the night because I was dreaming of the kennel and crying so hard that I actually began sobbing IRL. Poor me, leaving my job where I’d get peed on regularly to move to Italy, right?!
There’s so much more to it than that, though. I worked at Hal Wheeler’s for seven years; I grew there. Within that time, I graduated college, went out (and broke up) with my first real boyfriend, attended grad school, watched my parents separate and divorce, moved three times, struggled with figuring out what I wanted to do with my life…I became more of who I am today, and much of my identity was shaped around and influenced by my years there. Hal’s wasn’t just my job, but part of who I was – I snuck my phone number to worried customers and chatted with them late-night so that they’d feel better about leaving their pups (sorry Mike! My boss hated this!!), I took pictures and videos to assure that they were safe, and I kissed and cuddled with them as if they were my Maxi ❤ so that everyone felt more at ease. I was the “kennel girl,” and I cared so deeply about those dogs and their parents.
Though it’s more than a quarter of my life, seven years is nothing compared to the time my patients have spent investing in and growing from their roles, professional and otherwise. I can’t imagine how much more of a baby I’d be had I hit the ten-year mark, let alone something like forty. I honestly feel sad when I think about my replacement and how now if I leave Max to go away she’ll be sending me pictures and talking me down from the ledge that is my irrational nervousness. I cannot begin to fathom, then, the emotions that must be sparked in the face of role confusion (and often reversal) after so many years of perfecting one’s identity.
“Everyone needs a philosophy of life. Mental health is based on the tension between what you are and what you think you should become. You should be striving for worthy goals. Emotional problems arise from being purposeless.” – Viktor Frankl
Frankl’s right, and there is no expiration date on what he said. Imagine being treated as a child by your kids and supervised like an entry-level intern in your own home. Picture having your words spoken for you and a constant presence over your shoulder, for reasons foreign and unfathomable to you. Imagine!! I’m sick at the thought, and I’m only 26; the nonnas and nonnos probably laugh with each other at my so-called independence and unwavering sense of self (lovingly, of course).
Dr. Taylor, a father and former professor, stresses in his essays:
“Actually, what I need is to feel that I am still taking care of something. Something that returns love, that gives itself away without expecting anything back…”
David Troxel reiterates:
“People with dementia still need to feel productive – arranging flowers, sorting and organizing, folding clothes, hammering nails. When my mother was in assisted living, I’d keep rolls of wrapping paper, bows, and supplies in her room. I kept buying new things for her to help me wrap – for a friend, I’d tell her. She had so much fun, picking the paper, holding the ribbon while I tied the bow…
I’d bring my mom half a dozen dress shirts and neckties, and ask for her help. She loved matching the shirts with the best neckties. It’s empowering to feel you have a say in things.”
I see this constantly; nonnas especially love to offer input and provide assistance. After all, they’ve run the show for far longer than I’ve attempted to, and there’s much to be learned from them and their experiences. It is because of this (and so many other reasons) that I approach each patient not with the attitude that they require my help, but that ours is a mutually beneficial relationship. I admire them outwardly and without shame, seeking guidance and offering praise for even the most trivial tasks. I look up at them when we are talking, not down, and kiss their hands when we’re not. I speak properly (Lei, not tu) and show respect. Most importantly, I embrace, encourage, and solicit their guidance and their nurturance, as it has been not only their “job” to provide them but part of who they are for so, so many years.