personal reflection & growth
"The People Upstairs"
by: Edward Naughton
It’s quite a few years now since I was once more reminded of the inadequacy of not truly listening but relying on reason, thinking and my own personal learning and experience when trying to be helpful to another; in this case - my Mother.
Mom had suffered several strokes and as she aged she passed through several phases of dementia. She lived alone with my Dad and hehad his own ways of responding to her needs and her variant streams of reality. He didn’t get upset when she would look across the room and say, “Look at that old geeky man over there. He almost looks like your Dad; he even has pajamas like Dad.” But survive together they did and graciously so.
I lived half way across the country and would be able to visit only a few times a year. On one visit Mom was telling me about the couple living upstairs in their home. But the house had no upstairs; they lived in a one level ranch house. Mom was obviously not happy about this couple but seemed to be dealing with the situation well enough.
I asked her, “When did this couple arrive and how did they come to stay here?” “I don’t know why they are here,” she said, “but one daywe were out shopping and when I got to the car they were in the back seat and Dad just drove them home.” “And they live upstairs? We have no upstairs so how do they get up there?”
She answered, “There’s a way up through Dad’s closet but I’ve never been up there and I don’t know what they do up there.”
And this was my introduction to the “people upstairs.” I almost met them one night when I was awakene by some noise and I heard Mom’s shuffling feet. She was in the kitchen boiling water to make tea.
When I came into the kitchen she had two places set for her and Dad and asked if I would like a cup of tea. She then started adding more plates and when I asked, “Why are you setting five places?” she replied “As much as I do not like them here I could not leave out ‘the two upstairs’ but they are a stingy couple – they wouldn’t even bring a cookie into the house.”
As I talked with Dad about how he was doing and how he handled the situation I was brain-filled with my own psychology and human development studies and what I had learned in a unit of clinical study. Dad told me he just went along with the story every day, listened to Mom, and tried to help in whatever way he could. When I suggested that it might be good to try do some reality testing and maybe challenge the story a bit he smiled at me and said:
“I think it’s best if I just keep listening to her. It seems to help and she does not get agitated. It’s okay if she keeps talking about them and, as she says, they aren’t doing any harm.”
I was back in the area some time later and during my visit asked Mom: “How are the people upstairs?” “Oh,” she said,
“they moved to Philadelphia.”
When I asked Dad how this happened he simply said, “The more I listened to her lately she was getting a bit upset so I told her they were taking a trip and they might not be back. Mom thought that Philadephia would be a good place for the couple so I sent them there. Dad and Mom listened to each other.
The life and practice of a Caregiver, whether family member or private professional, seems at times to be a demanding experience requiring almost super human capabilities.
The Clients or patients the caregiver deals with are real persons with varieties of physical or emotional states, with personalities that can vary from hour to hour from open and cheerful to withdrawn, hostile and filled with fear. The caregiver willingly takes on the responsibility not only of attending to the physical needs of the patient but also of being one who is present in a personal caring manner to attend to the needs of the other in an holistic and meaningful way. A daunting task! A task so helped by listening and warmth.
Caregiving can be well expressed as the experience of accompaniment. The caregiver is present to the client most assuredly as one who provides physical and other ancillary aids ensuring the safety, comfort and well being of the client. But the caregiver is there like one on a journey with another as one who attends, observes, builds a trusting relationship and responds in a way that builds confidence, comfort and peace. The caregiver is not the doctor, nor counselor or advocate providing special or particular assistance but the one who notices the movements, the responses, behavior and attitudes of the client. As the caregiver in a sensitive way responds and assures the client of his/her presence the bond between the two is strengthened and the journey is not alone.
Such Caregiving is a challenge and it does call for heroic response at times. But in truth it is a gift of self to another which assists the physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of the client. Finally it becomes a recognized privilege by the Caregiver as in this act of caring he/she provides more meaning, more assurance and self respect to another. A daunting reward!