In praise of CNAs

In praise of CNAs

Yesterday I ran into a neighbor who is studying to be a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). I asked if she knew which area she would like to pursue specifically. She said she’s been considering doing in-home health and asked if I thought that was a good idea. I told her YES! In-home health helped me survive the last few years that my mom was home. After we parted I started thinking about all the CNAs I have worked with over the years, and what separates the good from the bad.

First off, it has to be one of the most thankless jobs on the entire planet. Their reward for long hours of heavy lifting, dirty diapers, oozing wounds, and irritable, uncooperative, and even violent patients is usually a pittance of a wage with few (if any) benefits. Why on earth do they do it? I had a hard enough of a time just caring for my own mother without completely losing my mind, and I love her. I don’t know if I would be able to do it day in and day out for anyone else.

The good ones do it because they have a genuine heart for people in need. They provide love and acceptance in situations most people walk away from. They wash, dress, feed, and nurse people who can’t take care of themselves while treating them with dignity and kindness. They don’t lose their temper. They don’t argue with the sick; they listen and then gently guide. In short, they MAKE PEOPLE’S LIVES BETTER.

While my mom was at home, the only respite I got was about four hours a week when a CNA would come into the house so I could leave. With the worst ones, I’d come home to a house dirtier than when I left, and an irritable Mom who obviously had had a bad time even though she couldn’t tell me why. My mom’s beautiful 25th-anniversary ring was stolen by a home health worker because it never occurred to me I would need to lock up our valuables.

BUT: With the best ones—and there were more good than bad–I’d come home to a sparkling house and a mother who was clean, well-fed, and happy from having one-on-one attention (from someone besides me) for awhile. Now at Mom’s assisted living, the good ones are the ones who have time to give their patients a hug, or do a little project with them, or make the effort to engage them in conversation, which is what all of the residents like best. No matter how far gone they are, they all love to have one-on-one interaction with someone. And, most importantly, they appreciate people who treat them like rational grownups even if they act like they’re lost in the Twilight Zone.

So here’s to you, Penny, Meagan, Cathy, Bridget, Stephanie, Audra, Kim, Jared, and all the others who have made life a little better for my mother and people like her. You should be earning what movie stars make, and I trust that God will one day richly reward you for the important work that you do. You truly are heroes to all of us who have been lucky enough to know you and benefit from your skill and generosity of spirit. Three Cheers for CNAs!!!


“Introduction” (How’s that for a snazzy title?)

Hi. For many years I was primary caregiver to my parents, who both had dementia. When he was 81, my dad caught pneumonia, which turned into septicemia, which cooked his brains. He went literally overnight from being normal to having mid- to advanced-level dementia. It progressed from there like Alzheimer’s until he succumbed three years later. My mother has vascular dementia, which is brain damage caused by stroke. The two types of dementia progress differently, although the end result is the same.

My dad died nine years ago. Mom stayed with me until about two years ago, when the risk of her taking a bad fall was too great to keep her at home any longer. So, I was a part- to full-time caregiver for over ten years. It wasn’t planned; I never announced “I am going to take care of my parents!” or anything. It just happened. I wasn’t very good at it, and have battled long and hard with feelings of anger, sadness, isolation, and grief from watching any idea of a “normal” life go down the drain.

I always thought that once I didn’t have to care for them anymore, then real life could begin again. As though being a caregiver was an interruption to my life. But now I realize it WAS my life. Being a caregiver made me who I am today. It made me grow up—or, at least, start that process. I’ve had to face a lot of demons that most people (myself included) happily run away from their whole lives. Like facing the fact that I am not really such a “nice” person as I like to think I am. If there is any good in me at all today, it is the Holy Spirit at work in my life. God has given me a little bit more empathy, a little bit more kindness, for people than I had before.

The dementia journey is unique to every person who goes through it. Likewise, the caregiver’s journey is unique to every caregiver. If anyone reads this who is struggling with caregiving, I hope I can at least give you some comfort that you’re not alone and that someone else on this planet understands what you’re going through. I will post something about once a week. If anyone has any comments or suggestions I’m open to hear them. I’m also having a hard time figuring out how this site works, so please bear with me as I work out the kinks! Thanks, and God bless;