I've been at my new job for nearly two months now. It came after a traumatic end to my last job, followed by a few months of recovery, and a few months of searching for something new. I had almost given up when this one came around. I was tired, frustrated, and beginning to doubt my skill-set and my abilities. I always pictured myself working with children, teens, or young people. And now I go to work and sit across from people with grey and white hair who are older than my parents. I love how life ends up being what you don't expect and how those surprises are often what give you the most joy and satisfaction.
I'm working at a non-profit independent living seniors residence. My official job title is "Resident Care Coordinator", but in actuality I'm a family counsellor. I get to spend my days with clients who have a myriad of issues and struggles - most of who just want someone to talk to. I get to work with clients in their 60's, all the way up to their late 90's. I get to problem-solve and work together with their families, and consult and case-manage with health care professionals. My clients all have sharp cognition, most are busy, active, and living really full lives. Some are on the cusp of a move to more supportive housing and need extra support to get to the next step. I see it all, and I'm always learning.
In just the past two months....
I've learned that sometimes what people come to talk to you about has nothing to do with what they really want to talk to you about. You can have three sessions about doctor's appointments and the hum-drum of life and then ask the right question and know you've hit gold. Regrets, disappointments, and shame will rise to the surface and then the work begins.
I've learned that it's never too late to begin. You can be in your late 80's and know the time is right to do personal work to make your life better or easier, or make your load lighter.
I've learned that shame is so prevalent.
I've learned that you can keep secrets for a very long time. I've sat with clients who tell me things they've never spoken out loud in over 70 years. There are times I sit feeling like I'm sitting on the most sacred ground as things are uncovered, spoken, and brought to light. Sometimes it's like I can see the heavy burden lifting.
I've learned that older people are just like you and me.
I've learned that you can pretend your whole life, but it will all catch up with you eventually.
I've learned to sometimes speak really really loudly and enunciate my words very very clearly. I've also learned that there are times when my voice needs to be soft and soothing, just above a whisper.
I've learned that 95 year olds still like to read romantic fiction and that if you drive a scooter and get a flat tire, CAA will come to the rescue.
I've learned to not expect certain ideas, opinions or lines of thinking from people just because they're old. Age means nothing.
I've learned that in some ways, age means everything... especially when you think your memory is failing, or judgement is going, and you're scared you're losing yourself.
I've learned that you're never too old to fall in love.
I've learned to trust myself and go with my hunches.
I've learned to remind people that it's OK to need someone to help, especially when those people have lived their entire lives proving to everyone that they are self-sufficient and don't need anyone.
I've learned that you can be young in age but very very old in disposition, or old in age and as youthful as they come.
I've learned that people usually reap what they sow. If you're alone and isolated, there is almost always a reason.
I've learned to value stories more than I did before.
I've learned that I love working with seniors.
I am reminded every single day at work that my job is a gift and the conversations I have are sacred.