wings and things

Volunteering 2

on August 10, 2014

Ev, the Events Coordinator at Anthony’s nursing home, doesn’t work on the weekends usually, so I asked her if I could do some of my volunteer work in the Dementia wing and she said yes! She told me that they have activities between 3 and 6pm and I could join in any time, so today I had my first taste of what this would be like. I knocked on the main door (it’s a locked section) and I got a nice surprise when the staff member who opened the door was Jill, who I already know because she brings three women residents for a walk around the nursing home every day at about 3pm and they pass by Anthony’s room where we all exchange waves and hellos. Once I explained I was now a volunteer, she was delighted and asked me to come for the walk. I was thrilled.

Jill always holds 91-year-old Wilma’s hand as they walk; Beryl (80s) usually walks by herself; and Meg (80s) holds her daughter, Cheryl’s hand. All three women residents are extremely mobile, cheerful and vocal (including singing as they walk) and all three also have dementia. Towards the end of the walk, Beryl put her left hand lightly around my right elbow and I felt a pang of joy as she asked me again what my name was. Back in the dementia wing, we all sat outside in a lovely patio and Jill organised some memory games. At 4pm, my hour was up so I excused myself and thanked the staff and residents for having me. Beryl squeezed my hand and said goodbye.

On the way back to Anthony’s section of the nursing home, I felt a sense of happy nostalgia for the years I worked in nursing homes, the years I wrote about dementia in my PhD and a subsequent book. I also felt a bit of melancholy nostalgia for the years of writing during which Anthony would help me fine-tune my argument which was about the importance of listening to, and conversing with, people with dementia, regardless of how the conversation might meander between memory, fantasy, lucidity, sense and nonsense.

It was amazing today to see staff and residents so compatible and cheerful but what really got to me was the mutual respect shown. I worked in several nursing homes in the late 1980s to 1990s and I never once saw what I saw today: staff and residents having fun together in a prolonged way!

Rushing into Anthony’s room so I could tell him all about it, I found him still asleep in his chair the way I’d left him an hour previous. I sat down in the chair I always position next to his and put a favourite DVD of ours into the player I only bought a few days ago The IT Crowd. Ants kept sleeping while I watched a few episodes but, every time I guffawed, he would open his eyes and smile, then tell me to turn the hoses off.

[To blog-friends, I’ve decided to post on weekends and do comments and read blogs during week now. I feel a bit out of touch!]

51 responses to “Volunteering 2

  1. You sound fulfilled in a way that seems like you found a long lost friend if that makes any sense. As I was reading I was smiling for you Jules 🙂

  2. Terry says:

    We never know how our past living can become so useful in our future. I can see it in your life as you love Ants and the residents. You are doing a wonderful job. This chapter of your life will always be filled with wonderful memories and opportunities fulfilled. Hugs

  3. I feel the enthusiasm in your voice and I am so glad you are finding this new role so fulfilling. 🙂

  4. ingridrick says:

    That’s a good idea Julie – volunteering … I have been thinking of you – will catch up soon.

  5. Judy says:

    You are so amazing, Julie. Not only are you shining your light upon Anthony’s life, you are also touching and helping others. You inspire me. 🙂

  6. Julie you are an amazing human being. This post made me smile too! ❤
    Diana xo

  7. FlaHam says:

    Julie, I bet you are a wonderful volunteer, giving of yourself in total, with the patients interests always as at the forefront of your thoughts. Please take care, Bill

  8. How interesting that you took courses etc. that now help you understand about dementia and your contact with those in the nursing home… When my Mom became unresponsive etc. I continued to talk to her just as I always did… believing that somehow she understood at least some of what I was saying even if she couldn’t tell me… Diane

  9. What a great idea of yours, to do volunteer work, Julie. 🙂 It seems to be a natural progression on your journey with Anthony. 🙂 xx

  10. tersiaburger says:

    Amazing how much we receive when we are “giving”. You are an incredible person. Lots of love

  11. bluebee says:

    Finding the good in the situation and getting joy from it, too, while helping others. We can learn from you, Julie.

  12. tootlepedal says:

    You have things to do so don’t worry about being out of touch.

  13. Zyriacus says:

    I can understand the joy you have felt with the kind response and the relaxed way staff and patients have with each other. Not so in our case, where my demented mother-in-law (90) is not at all relaxed or even nice to have. Instead she is malcontent, and aggressive to every person coming near her. That makes it increasingly difficult to care for her especially because she is physically very weak and needs help in every respect. My wife who does most of the care is suffering quite a lot.
    So enjoy every moment in the small things that make life worthwile (i remember the short exchange you hat with Anthony the other day – how wonderful that was!)

    • jmgoyder says:

      So sorry you are experiencing this with your mother-in-law. When I was a nurse I saw this behaviour a lot too. One of the carers in the dementia wing told me today that the same women who were so cheerful the other day, can sometimes be the opposite (like all of us I guess) and Ants sometimes gets angry too but your situation, and your wife’s, sounds hellish – I am so sorry.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Jules I love what you are doing and we don’t under thr big picture but maybe God was preparing you for this and giving you more training now. The whole world is groaning at the present time and we feel helpless. Well you are not helpless as you are actively doing something for the big picture.

    • jmgoyder says:

      I understand exactly what you mean by that feeling of helplessness (in the face of both personal and world-wide conflicts) so it’s a relief to be a bit hopeful.

  15. artfulanxiety says:

    Love the I.T Crowd! One of my favourite recent British comedies too!
    I’m glad you’re finding silver linings, it’s inspirting – even though you probably would call bollocks to that. It just makes me feel a little better.

  16. I often don’t post blogs over the weekend I just don’t have enough time some weekends, I can imagine how good you would feel being able to volunteer at the nursing home, do you have to volunteer in order to get a government payment or is it just something you wanted to do

    • jmgoyder says:

      To answer your question, Centrelink gives an allowance to those over 55 as long as they volunteer 15 hours per week. Obviously I can’t count the hours I spend exclusively with Ants but there is some flexibility. Still testing the waters!

  17. Just started reading “We’ll Get Married in Freemantle”. Was able to find it through the University library system here. Fascinating read. I too think storytelling is so important. Too many won’t listen to stories by elderly because they are stuck on repeats. But they desperately want/need to be heard. Maybe they are also reminding themselves that they have/had value?

  18. Judith Post says:

    So lovely how the dementia unit works where Anthony stays. My daughter started nursing in an Alzheimer’s unit in a nursing home and loved her patients. She really missed them once she got a job at a hospital.

  19. Tiny says:

    Happy nostalgia comes out in your voice here. In the midst of everything you have found a way to be at peace with what is.

  20. Trisha says:

    The patients are lucky to have you!

  21. Lynda says:

    ‘…staff and residents having fun together in a prolonged way!”

    Hallelujah! I hope it continues and spreads to other care giving centers! I’m so glad you have had the schooling and publishing behind you to help you through this time in your and Anthony’s life. xo, Julie!

  22. Sounds like this is a good thing in your life! And I’m sure Anthony appreciates you being around more, too.

  23. When my wise old grandmother finally went to the assisted living home (still called “nursing home” back then), I was totally against it. With 20-20 hindsight, it was the best thing for her, with her memory coming back, her joy of living returning, and so much more. Being around similar people and interacting with them in activities meant so much. Monday was hair & nails day, Tuesday was movie night, Wednesday was Games night (Grandma was the dominos champion), Thursday was shopping day, Friday was movie night, Saturday was visitors day, and Sunday was church day.

  24. janeslog says:

    I find places like that very sad. My uncle was a psychiatrist who worked in Hartwood in Shotts and Gogarburn in Edinburgh. I used to play in the grounds when visiting as a child.

    As an adult, a group of us used to visit old folks homes especially at Christmas and sing carols to them. I found them quite sad.

    Hopefully it won’t depress you.

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