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Alex works in aged care and shared this piece with us about what led her to that career.
I did not have a strong relationship with my grandparents. I was a child of Portuguese migrants. They worked hard to give me the opportunities they didn’t have in their rural village of Beira Baixa, Portugal.
I benefited with access to Melbourne’s tertiary education and the multicultural melting pot of Richmond in the eighties and nineties. My grandparents and extended biological family lived overseas and apart from a few holidays and phone calls, they were foreigners to me.
I know that in Portugal the elders took care of each other. On a family holiday to Portugal when I was 16, I saw how my maternal grandparents cared for their aunt. Caring for elders was part of the rural community life they lived.
I did not make time for my grandparents when I had the chance.
Back in Melbourne my life was exploring the goth and rave culture. I think back to those angsty days and I feel compassion for that child. She was disconnected from extended family, friends and herself, a closeted queer, and trying her hardest to fit in to the world around her.
I was lucky to spend time with my mother-in-law Jan, who lived with dementia, at the end of her life. It was difficult to see her lose her ability to drive, then cook for herself, shower, talk, walk and lastly, to breathe.
With Jan, I learnt to slow down. I learned the value of sitting with someone and listening to the birds outside. I initially felt uncomfortable about entering the aged care facility but also admiration for the staff members who approached their job and the residents with joy.
It was hard for her children. They wanted to hold onto their fond memories of her in her healthier days. Jan was a supportive, caring parent, a jovial tennis player, always up for a laugh and chinwag.
The Jan they now visited was not the mother they knew.
In many ways it was easier for me to interact with Jan as her dementia progressed. Not being her child afforded me an ease to connect with her without the grief associated with watching a parent’s personality slowly fade.
One afternoon, on a visit, her child and grandchild were recounting events of the week. I noticed that Jan appeared to have tuned out. Perhaps the energy of two adults and a four-year-old was a bit much for her.
I looked into her eyes, she looked back at me. I considered her current experience, her inability to follow conversations, unable to relate to the busy world of her child or grandchild. She was becoming more and more isolated. I noticed tears welling in her eyes. These moments while we gazed into each other’s eyes felt eternal, and we were in the centre of the universe. We teared up in unison, we smiled, our minds danced, and we even giggled together. We were in our own little bubble in the aged care residence.
I was not around to spend time with my grandparents as they aged and died, but it’s not too late to connect with other seniors in my community, and it’s with that drive that I treasure working in aged care.
We thank Alex for sharing her story.
No matter how you are impacted by dementia or who you are, Dementia Australia is here for you. Call us on 1800 100 500 to find out what support services we have available.
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