Our residents do not live in our workplace, we work in their home.
The experience of visiting a nursing home was something that I never thought a lot about but until recently, when I visited a nursing home up in the hills north-west of Cairns. It is a place that I would not ask for any better way for a person living their last final days of their life. This nursing home is located in the middle of the secluded rainforest, surrounded in a pristine, natural environment – the wet-tropics rainforest. It is truly a tropical paradise and it is the final home for many elderly residents who are approaching their end of life.
As I walked into this gated community of elderly people, I felt like I was intruding their peaceful environment but I was greeted with friendly staff and residents who live there that were able to smile and gave me wave, which I responded back appreciatively. As I was guided towards the entrance of the communal hall, I could not believed what I witnessed. In many ways, it has changed me forever on my outlook on perception of life. I was filled with feelings of emotions, sadness and compassion but at the same time, with a deeper understanding of how we human beings live our life from cradle to graveyard, especially towards the end of our lives. As I looked around, I had this realisation, that the residents living there are approaching their last days of their lives and are truly in “God’s waiting room”.
I noticed, as the staff were busy moving about doing their daily tasks, I felt the sense of pride and endless smiles in what they were doing. I was not surprised, this was the home to most of the people who were in wheel-chairs, or with walking frames or walking sticks and others bedridden. Alongside each of these people were their carers and families who have come to spend the last moments with their loved ones on daily or weekly visits. In this enclosed area, it is the home to people who are not able to return to the outside world again. As part of their daily activities, many staffs create incentives for the resident – playing card games, going for short walks around the beautiful gardens or feed them, shower them or simply sit with them outdoors with lounge style chairs and enjoying the sunshine or coolness of the wet-tropics fresh air. As I continued to observe with disbelief about the way all staff working there but at the same time, accepting that, people working here are so unique and are gifted in a very special way. I thought to myself, that, if this wasn’t a job for them, then probably it was something that they are passionate about – that is caring for the residents that are approaching towards the end of their lives. They have the choice of walking away from the job but they choose not to and I say it with great relief, that we have people that are gifted in that way. The elderly people do not live in their workplace, the staff work in elderly people’s home.
As I walked passed through the corridors and halls ways towards the friend’s room, I noticed that each room had single beds for each residents and they had very little or had no personal possessions with them. The rooms were provided with a television, bedside cupboard, tiny table and a single wardrobe for anyone that has a good mobility to use it but otherwise, it was left unused. Every residents’ room had a huge glass windows with views that looked out to the beautiful natural tropical rainforest and the beautiful gardens.
After having good conversation with my friend, where we talked and discussed about many things in relation to life and the crisis that are happening in recent times, I headed out of the nursing home. As I reflect on what I have seen and discussed with my friend, I thought to myself, this is where I am heading to but my time is yet to come. We humans live our lives in this busy world with hatred, greed, pride, selfishness, anger and the list goes on but never take the time to think and reflect on where we will end up. All elderly people living in this nursing home come from many different backgrounds and lived very different lives materially and socially but in their finals days of their lives, they all congregate in one place and that is nursing home where ordinary people take care of their needs – they feed them, they shower them and they dress them. These are the staffs, that they care for the people they never meet in their life.
As I started to drive back home, through this lavish tropical rainforest with few showers, I started to think back on life, especially, how we humans live our lives and end up in a place where material possessions are no longer vital part of our life. I remember back attending a church where a preacher talked about material things and one thing that he mentioned that glued to my entire life was “We are Born in this world with nothing and we will Leave this world with nothing”. It is true reflection of what I have seen and witnessed in this elderly peoples’ room.
As one of the nurse who has worked in a nursing home for many years has recorded some of the five most common regrets that the people said as she listen to them at their bedside in their last moments of their life.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
“Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
From a personal perspective: For any one visiting a family member or a friend who is in a nursing home, remember that a resident’s room is their home. Always remember that when you are going into an individual’s room you are probably going into the only space they can still call their own. Act as you would in anyone’s home, giving the person your full attention.