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Thursday, 31 December 2009

The year of opportunity

2009 was for me a year of challenges and a year of change, but most of all, a year of opportunity. I for one am grateful for every moment. If I hadn't experienced the pain and joy, in equal measure, then I would not be here today smiling and holding my head up high. 2009 was the year that I finally discovered my path and realised that it doesn't matter what you do, all that matters is to celebrate who you are and to be happy. That in the end is all that counts.

Friday, 25 December 2009

A Tribute to a Lady

Last Christmas in the midst of crisis and pain, Coran and I did not have the heart to even put up our tree - we had other things on our minds. This year fortunately was the opposite, and to me at least, brought nothing but joy. I cannot of course speak for Coran, as he needs to speak for himself.

The days leading up to Christmas were sadly marred by the deaths of two residents at work - one an 84 year old man with dementia on Thursday 17th and the other a dearly loved lady, aged 99. She was our longest standing resident, having been in the home, so I was told, for 13 years. I feel privileged to have shared the last seven months of her long and no doubt eventful life with her. I cannot begin to imagine the changes she lived through and witnessed; two world wars, countless smaller ones, a marriage and widowhood, the births of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, the beginnings of communism, the death of communism, several monarchs and US presidents, the sixties, the list is potentially endless. It was sad that she didn't make it for another Christmas (it would have been terrible though had she died on Christmas Day), and even sadder that she did not live to see 100 - she was six months short.

Her slide seemed to be quite rapid in that two weeks ago she was sitting in her wheelchair, happy as Larry, watching us all at work. When I met Lulu I began to understand the meaning of the term "second childhood". Her happiness and her zest for life were infectious, even though she was old and not always well, she was a joy to watch and to spend time with. Watching her eat her lunch was like watching a baby; a big grin would spread across her face as she picked up the food with anything that she had to hand - her cutlery, her napkin and more often than not, her own fingers. More food would end up on her than it did in her mouth, but she enjoyed herself immensely, and we enjoyed watching her. Somehow nobody minded the mess.

I have so many happy memories of this very special lady - I remember how she used to sit in her chair for hours babbling away in a babyish little voice while cuddling her dollies, how she used to talk in more lucid moments about her life with her husband and her own mother, and how much she loved them both. I remember the card from her daughter addressed to "My darling mother"; that was how we all thought of her, as our own darling Lulu (her real name was Louisa, but we called her Lulu or Louie for short). Most of all I remember how when I used to be hoovering in the lounge, her eyes would follow me around the room, and she would look at me and open up her arms, and point to her heart to ask for a kiss and a cuddle and to let us know in her own sweet way that she loved us as much as we all loved her. This wonderful lady has left a huge hole that will be very, very difficult to fill, and although Christmas at the home was good, it somehow wasn't quite the same without her.

I think I knew that she going to die when I went into her room three nights before and found her lying on her side, with her eyes open staring at something invisible. I reached out to touch her arm and offer her some comfort and she turned to look at me and said in her croaky little voice, "I'm tired". I knew that it wasn't physical tiredness she was feeling, but a tiredness for living, that her time was coming to an end. The night that she died I went to see her again, and sat there for a few moments stroking her arm and her hair, talking to her, sometimes out loud and sometimes in my head, and saying to her that if she wished to go, then she should go, and she should not wait around on our behalf. I did the same for my own mother when she passed ten years ago.

In the early hours of Christmas Eve I was in the space between sleep and wakefulness when I had the strangest experience. It was as if I had left my own body and was hovering around her room, watching her sleep. I saw one of the night staff enter her room and press the alarm button, and as I continued to watch, I saw Lulu herself rise out of her body, which lay lifeless on the bed, surrounded in a ball of light, as the silver cord that anchored her soul into the physical form began to separate. Her face appeared in this ball of light, which as I watched began to smile and gradually grew younger and younger until she was back restored to her full health and vigour, surrounded by those that she loved. It was a very touching and privileged experience, so when I went to work later that day and found that her room door was shut, I was not surprised to find that she had passed during the night.

The mood that night was understandably subdued, with most of the staff deeply affected, and many tears were shed, not least of all by myself. There must have been some powerful connection though between the two of us for her to feel that she could show me that and allow me to share the moment of her passing. I would love to have known more about her life, but I don't suppose now that I ever will.

Christmas Day itself was reasonably uneventful, but very busy. It was the first time that I have ever had to work on the day itself and I must admit that a part of me was slightly resentful, especially when one reads of so many who get two weeks off. Christmas is though a time for families, and in many ways, the old folk who I have come to care for so deeply, are now as much a part of my family as my own flesh and blood, whom I see little of.

There was a steady stream of visitors throughout the morning, and I don't think the doorbell stopped ringing. Some stayed for a short while, bringing gifts and Christmas wishes for their loved ones, some stayed for the whole day, including a three course Christmas lunch, which I was told was delicious. It was lovely to walk into one lady's room and find three generations all together, her daughter and son in law, with her granddaughter and her new husband. It was also nice to share a cuddle with one of their son's, such a lovely man, and to finally meet another lady's son, who she has told me so much about. He travels a lot with his work and can't get to see her that often, and I know she misses him.

Despite the extra work, somehow it did all get done, and I managed to finish just after 2pm, as usual and get home for my own celebrations. It was nice to spend time with Coran watching telly and cooking a simple dinner together. There was another cause for celebration too, as I found that two of the soft pigs that I collect had had babies during the night (bought from the National Trust centre a few days ago). Our main meal will be at lunch time today - I will be cooking a root vegetable roast with fruity Cumberland sauce, which we will have with roast potatoes, roasted red onions, carrots, peas, and cauliflower cheese, with Christmas pudding and custard for afters.

Later on, we hope to go and see Avatar, and we are both fans of James Cameron's work, and then it will be back to work as usual tomorrow, before it all starts again.

Monday, 21 December 2009

The shortest day of the year

Today is the winter solstice, tradtionally regarded as the shortest day of the year, after which the light gradually starts to return. Many people, myself included will breath a deep sigh of relief with this knowledge.

The light may be returning in nature, but this time last year, it felt as if the light in my life had well and truly gone out, for I had been literally frogmarched from the store in which I worked having been suspended pending investigations of certain aspects of my behaviour to which the company had taken a dislike. Actually the feeling was mutual, but they did not realise just how much until several weeks later when I finally had the chance to let them know.

That though is water under the bridge, and I try not to dwell on the past. Still, it has been on my mind of late, as have other things from my past. This time of year is littered with anniversaries - the ending of that job, and the death of my mother to name just two. Today though is the 88th birthday of one of the female residents at work, whom I am particularly close to, and who reminds me in many ways of Mum. It is ironic that we have also just passed my mothers birthday - had she still been alive she would have been 89 on Saturday - which makes her one year and two days older than my friend at work. I will not be there to wish her happy birthday until later on this afternoon, but they will fill her room with balloons and have a special birthday cake with their afternoon tea, and I hope too that if they can, at least one of her four sons will visit.

At this time of year, the number of deaths seems to increase, it is almost as if, like the animals, the old folk wish to hibernate, only with them it is of course permanent. The latest one to leave his body was on Thursday, which I was saddened as always to hear about, especially as I found out purely by chance, when the chef remarked that she was surprised to see his widow there at the residents Christmas party which was held on Saturday. I was shocked and upset that no one had seen fit to tell me properly, and it left me wondering just how much part of the team I really am. It is true that a sign was put up on the wall next to his room, but it was postcard sized and I do not believe it is reasonable to rely on staff who were not there at the time to see this - the nurse in charge should make sure that everyone is informed.

It was in many ways a relief for this poor man, who suffered from a form of dementia that affected his swallowing reflex, and it is true that I did not know him well, for he could hardly speak, but I know that his last few years were made as comfortable as possible, and he was surrounded by love from his wife, who came to visit every day. I shall miss her perhaps more than I will miss him, for we used to have some nice chats about different things, but life moves on, and it is part of the grand cycle. His room shall be cleared out, spring cleaned and re-let no doubt in the New Year - there is a considerable waiting list for a three star home such as ours.

For the moment though, snow is cascading past the window, and once Coran has dried his hair, we are off to the gym via the National Trust Centre and the Post Office to look for pigs and to finally get some stamps.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

As 2009 comes to an end

As we approach the end of the year, and indeed the decade (a whole other post), it seems fitting to look back on the year and see what challenges and surprises it has brought.

The year for me started off on a low note, when I had to face a disciplinary meeting at work - I was charged with writing about the company on my blog and disclosing 'company secrets'. They were expecting me to bow down and admit defeat without fighting back, and got the shock of their lives when I turned up with a army of friends in support. I really knocked them for six when I read my opening statement and defence that stated it was as much their fault as my own, since it was their lack of communication that had led me to find other ways to let off steam. They must have taken it to heart, since to my utter surprise, rather than sacking me I was given a final written warning.

That of course knocked me for six, as it meant that I had to face the prospect of going back to a job that had made me ill. Understand that I had not been fighting to save that job, but for a principal - to let them know that their behaviour was unacceptable and that there were repercussions. I did go back, but didn't manage more than half a day before I broke down in floods of tears and had to phone Coran to come and collect me. The Manager of the branch I had been sent to (I couldn't go back to my original one) was fantastic and did all that he could to listen and support with judgment (I suspect that he had seen it all before many times). In the end though I realised that I had to resign, which I did that same afternoon. I instantly felt a huge sense of relief.

Of course then the fears started to creep in - have I done the right thing, should I have stayed and sorted this out, what will I do if I can't get another job, will the fact that I have this warning put potential employers off? I knew though that I had to walk away, as I no longer (if I ever did) belong in that industry, it represented everything that I despise about our modern consumer society and the me, me, me attitude that seems to prevail amongst so many of the under 35's.

Then came the clearing - terrible shakes and sweats as I began to work through the different layers of emotion - thankfully those symptoms only lasted a day, but the thoughts and the doubts remained right up until I began my current job, at the beginning of May.

Before that I decided to apply for a job on Lundy, the island in the Bristol Channel that I have been visiting for the past 14 years. That brought its own set of challenges, not least of all telling the entire village so that they could advertise for a new Editor. Even now almost a year later, despite the fact that I published an open letter in the newsletter informing people that I would not be going, some of them still ask when I will be moving. I politely inform them to refer to the letter which was printed in the April edition !

Finally in May I started my new job - as a housekeeper in a nursing home. Good things can come from bad, since if I hadn't been to Lundy and experienced doing this type of work there, I would never have considered applying for such a job. When funds were really tight I cleaned some of my neighbours houses, so I suppose I may have considered it. Anyway, seven months on, and having also taken on the role of evening kitchen assistant in the same home, I love the job and am enjoying getting to know the residents and their families. I could do with the extra money that would come from a more full time job, but haven't got the heart to leave. I am putting out to the universe though that I would like more hours in the home on a more permanent basis. For the moment I just about manage, with overtime and occasional exam invigilating work, plus a bit of Internet based market research and the odd royalty check from my publisher. Even so, I have had to face the fact that my days of being able to afford three visits a year to Lundy are well and truly over.

This is difficult since the craving remains, despite the veneer regarding island life being shattered (for that you will have to read my earlier posts from March onwards). I hope to visit Iceland next year but at the moment cannot see how or where the money will come from - I try to have faith that the universe (or more likely, the tax man) will provide.

Other challenges of a more personal nature have included dealing with my sisters illness and my relationship with her, and not allowing the past to affect the present. I have to constantly remind myself when I overhear the girls at work discussing their work related problems that that is their experience and it doesn't have to be mine. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes, but I have learnt from mine this year and done a lot of growing. I have a new found confidence that wasn't there at the beginning of the year and am no longer afraid to communicate with bosses or to be myself - people have to accept me for who I am, and most of them I am glad to say, have. As for the others, well that is for them to work through.

The year for me then has been about dealing with issues from my past and moving very firmly into the future - to be more precise, it has been about learning to live in the present, for this is the only moment we have. As my bumper sticker says, "today is a gift, that's why they call it the present".

Monday, 7 December 2009

Mirrors are two way

I have been in my current job for just over seven months now, and most of the time I love it. There isn't anyone there that I don't get on with, but there have been one or two problems with one of the other housekeepers. For some reason she seems to continually look for holes in my work and pull me up on certain things. They are mostly what I would consider to be quite silly things - like for example the other week when she came and found me to ask me to empty the bin in the laundry as she claimed that it was full. I knew that I had emptied it once already that day, but she seemed to think that it was full and needed emptying again. I don't know why she couldn't do it herself, but that is par for the course. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I went and had a look and found that it was not actually full at all, rather, someone had placed some cardboard in there that made it look full.

Officially I am employed as a housekeeper at the home, but really and truly I consider that I am there to help the residents in any way that I can, including talking to them. There is one lady in particular that I have become quite close too, she often tells me little things about how her family and her past and we chatter together like old friends. Several times in the morning I have gone into her room to collect her breakfast tray and found her in distress - she suffers from depression and is not a morning person. So I stayed with her for a while to try and cheer her up. My colleague came and found me and really was quite upset that I was spending as she put it "too much time talking". My job she said was to work in the kitchen and not talk to the residents - that was for the nurses !

Well, that knocked me for six. I mean, it is not as if I don't do my job - I am always finished on time, usually early in fact, as is she. In fact the other day I saw her sneaking off 20 minutes early, and I don't think she started early that day ! I also found the iron placed on the floor with its flex trailing all over the place dangerously when she hadn't put it away properly, so I don't think she should be lecturing me.

Her words though had been playing on my mind, particularly this weekend when she told me off again. I am aware that conflicts like this occur it is usually reflecting to you the fact that you may behave in this way, so I have been racking my brain to think how this could be true. Then it occurred to me that a mirror is two way - could it then be that I am acting as a mirror for her and in some way pressing her buttons in the way that I work and get on with everyone, staff and residents alike so well that it shows her where she herself is lacking? This is not meant to sound as if I am blowing my own trumpet, but the fact is that I do work hard - everyone there says so, and the residents all sing my praises too. You only have to read the notes from the monthly residents meetings to know this.

So, now that I have realised this, I have resolved not to let her worry me. I intend to carry on doing exactly what I do best - to do the job to the best of my ability. I do not want to make this woman uncomfortable though, so I will also endeavour to befriend her and get her on my side that way. The Christmas party next weekend should certainly help.