An independent woman


A drawing of a photograph of Dorothy traveling at sea in her 20s.

If I was to stay at this job for at least another year several conditions had to be met: I would need to keep earning good money (as all things aside) my ultimate goal was to go back to University and maybe travel back to my home country for a while as I was terribly home sick and in desperate need of some time to find myself. Being a fresh graduate I could not think of another job that would pay me as much. Well, that condition would certainly be met.

Next I would need to give it my all, because this wasn’t going to be anything like the several menial jobs I had done before where you do as much as is expected of you and you retire home to the comfort of your life. From early in the morning to night time 5 to 6 times a week my life would be spent beside Dorothy. And more than do what was expected of me (to be a carer) I wanted to do what I expected of me. I knew I could do more than simply bath and cook for her. I could learn as much as I could about her condition and strive to improve all aspects of her life using all the psychological skills I had learned.I wanted to prove myself capable and be more than just a carer. So soon I became Dorothy’s care co-ordinator. The difference between that and a carer mainly being that instead of me being given a list of things to do I would study the situation and make the list myself. That suited my personality and needs much more.
So I thought the conditions for me to stay and succeed at this job were being met. But there was much more. Dorothy wasn’t just a sufferer of Alzheimer’s disease, a dementia patient, a disabled elderly. Dorothy was an extremely independent woman in nature with a fascinating story to tell. If I compared my age to hers she had lived at least 2 or 3 lives more than me. She was bound to have a very distinct personality built on top of so many life experiences. What good would it be to understand that with dementia one’s working memory (or short term memory) is usually affected before their long term memory if I didn’t know the depths of her long term memory and what recollections and stories lay so hidden in there? Dorothy’s niece was able to give me a brief of her personality and history, but I was advised to speak to Dorothy’s myself and find out the rest.

This woman could not remember my name or who I was, she didn’t seem to know who her niece living in the house was and definitely didn’t seem to have a concrete knowledge of even where she lived, but she knew who she was! I took her out for a tea in town and began digging.

Dorothy was a sibling amongst 8, with 5 brothers who had passed away, one younger sister who regularly visited and cared for her and one older sister who lived further away and occasionally visited. But most interesting of all: Dorothy was a Miss. She never married and had no children. Now that is quite a rare thing for a lady in her 70s and I see that I’m not the only one to react this way when people out in the street constantly assume that I am Dorothy’s granddaughter. How she never got married I found hard and at the same time easy to understand: Dorothy was a traveler. She also had a best friend of over 50 years, Jean (also quite rare) who accompanied her in adventures in Spain and America. When looking through old photos with Dorothy and Jean I also found out a very interesting fact: Dorothy had a bl***y good taste for men! Wow the boyfriends she had! And how pretty was she?? She still had the same smile, the same little twinkle in her eyes that you see when she sees cute kittens on a TV ad or when her beloved niece walks through the door and sends a wave of happiness through her making her so giddy.

There was so much more to Dorothy than dementia, than a brain that is disintegrating leaving it not recognizing people and places, not understanding complex sentences, not finding the words she was looking for anymore. Yes her life was heading to a sad, sad end. But it had been such an interesting, happy life! Why waste her remaining lucid moments only concentrating on those?

So I found the missing piece – the last condition that needed to be met for me to stay and succeed at the job: get to know Dorothy for who she really is in her heart, and not just in her brain.

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