“I know that I can make a change to people’s lives, I know that I can bring a smile to their faces day in, day out and I know that they love me for it. I feel loved and needed every day of my life and that is something I had not had for a long, long time. It sounds clichéd and just for effect, but my work really has made my life complete. The residents have enabled me to rediscover a passion and zest for life which I thought had long gone. And, I know without a shadow of doubt that what I am doing is appreciated. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that what I do is not a job.”
Four years ago, this March, I arrived back in the UK after living a life of Riley in sunny Spain for nearly 20 years. Sun tanned, wearing designer clothes, I wore the façade well, whilst inside I was an empty shell, putting on a brave face. I had no idea of what I was going to do with my life. I was a disappointment to myself and here I was at the ripe old age of 60, unemployed, penniless and dependant on the generosity of my family.
Having survived a very dark period in my life my confidence had taken a terrible beating. Realisation had set in that, at my age, I was not going to be able to walk back into the kind of jobs I had been able to when younger and I was not in a financial position to start a new business again, so I was floundering, badly. Joining the ranks of the unemployed at the job centre completed my humiliation and the stigma of this [imagined or not] was to me almost unbearable.
But at my interview I was made to feel very comfortable and as I chatted away, I soon realised that my life experiences would stand me in good stead for the role I was applying for. Thankfully they saw something in me worth cultivating and I was offered a carers job with Somerset Care.
Within a week or so, I knew that this was something I could do and do well. I had always been in sales and marketing of some kind and I soon realised that the skills needed for this new role were not so far removed from what I had done in the past. I was able to utilise the selling skills I had always been so successful with, but instead of selling a product, I was selling a way of life. I loved chatting to the residents and feeling them warm to me. Very soon important, genuine bonds began to form.
The passion and interest I suddenly found in Dementia and Caring took me totally by surprise. When I realised what an impact these people were making on me, I knew I wanted to know more; not only about the job, but about them, too. I listened to their stories; I laughed with them, and at times I cried with them. I tried my best to understand what it was they wanted and what I could do to help them. As quickly as I could I immersed myself in learning as much as possible about the life of each person I was caring for. And boy, did I care.
After about a year the role of Activity Co-ordinator came up, and I just knew that this was the job for me. I would be able to spend more quality time with the residents and I could throw myself wholeheartedly into finding new ways to improve everyone’s day to day life. Since landing that role, I have gone through a complete metamorphosis and become [what to some must be absolutely unbearable] a total bundle of pure energy!
At 64 I have found my true vocation in life and believe me it was well worth waiting for. I have never, ever felt so at home as I do when I am in a room full of residents, reminiscing and reliving their stories, singing their favourite songs, or simply holding their hands. The pleasure I get when a person previously lost to us in their dementia world suddenly begins to connect, is a pleasure impossible to measure. It absolutely consumes me, and I know I am a better person for it.
Proof in the pudding that it is never too late to start again. It would have been so easy for me to have given up, to have believed my own insecurities that no one would employ me at my age and to have sat back and wallowed in ‘what ifs’ and ‘why me’s.’ But, thank goodness I took that leap of faith and jumped with both feet well and truly into the unknown.
Working in the care environment is, in my opinion, perfectly suited to the more mature person. We can offer a wealth of life experiences, we can relate to the stories, events and memories which have shaped our residents’ lives; things which a younger person may find difficult as they have not lived through them. Ok they can learn about them in history books at school, but this is something which cannot be taught. Just as the desire to care cannot be taught, it is something inherent in our personalities which has sometimes, due to circumstances and life in general, been pushed deep down and hidden. I am so happy that I have had the chance to delve deep and coax my caring nature out into the open again. Granted, I am not earning the amounts I did in the past, but what I have gained in self-worth and lifestyle is far more important and valuable to me now.
Trust me, I haven’t turned into an angel overnight and life still throws the odd spanner in the works. But I now have a glass that’s full. It’s never empty anymore. I look forwards to going to work every day and get frustrated that there are never enough hours to do all I want. My passion for music and the therapeutic effect it has on people prompted me to start a business to run alongside my regular job, so on my days off I go into other care homes with ‘Sing Something Simple’ which is a reminiscing session that I developed. It didn’t take me long to realise that music was a key that I could use to unlock hitherto tightly shut and firmly bolted doors. A tool which could be used in many different situations and something which was at the time not being utilised as much as it could be, so I set about doing my little bit to change things and over the last couple of years real steps forward have been made. Through music I have witnessed truly heart wrenching and heart lifting moments, the like of which I would never experience in any other job or occupation.
The profound effect that being part of the care industry has had on me has spilled over into my family life, involving them all in my work. Especially my young grandchildren who regularly visit and play games, chat or entertain the residents. Even the dog has been trained up as a therapy dog and accompanies me as often as possible. I could not be happier.
As I approach my mid 60s, there is nowhere else I would rather be, and all I can say is that if this is what the autumn of my life is like, then I have no fears about the winters that will follow.