Honorary Grandparents

By May, Certified Nursing Assistant

It’s always strange, coming back to work after extended time off. . .anything longer than a three day weekend. I always seem to think that I’ll lose some skills (or worse, speed) when I come back. I’m not sure where I acquired this idea, nor why I hold onto it.

On the one hand, nothing changes while you’re gone: there’s still too many residents and not enough aides. The work doesn’t change. On the other hand, a lot can change in almost a week. One resident can pass away, another could fall. Mr. J can change from being a standing lift to a hoyer. The residents with more advanced dementia can forget me entirely, others assume the worst from my absence.

Take Mrs. N for example. As soon as she opens her eyes and sees me standing by the foot of her bed, an expression of pure relief floods her face.

“May, you’re back! Did you decide not to abandon us after all?” she asks, grasping my hands as soon as I set her tray down at her beside table.

I’m still worn out from the week I’ve has, so I convey my confusion about her inquiry with an ineloquent but effective syllable: “Huh?”

“You left us,” she says reproachfully. “But I suppose I can forgive you as long as you don’t quit again and leave me.”

“Quit?” I repeat. This is the first I’ve heard about a change in my employment status. “Honey, I didn’t quit.”

“You were gone for so long! And you didn’t tell me goodbye, or say you wouldn’t be here for a while.”

“It wasn’t that long,” I protested.

“It was forever!” she insists, still clinging to my hand. “Well, if you didn’t quit, where did you go?”

I thought I’d be stronger…but then again, how would I know? I’ve never been in this position before. All I know is that now I’m crying again. Sometimes it feels like the tears will never stop, that the pain will never dull.

“I had to bury my grandmother,” I sob out; then Mrs. N pulls me down beside her and holds me until I stop crying. “Sorry,” I sniffle.

She waves her hand at this, dismissing my embarrassment like so much nonsense. As she looks at me with sympathy, I can see a thought forming behind her eyes. It seems to grow until she can shape into words and says, in a soft, hesitant tone: “Can I be your grandmother now?”

And once again, I get choked up. I pride myself over my command of words, but none will come now and so I just nod my head vigorously, and grip her hands tightly.

The bonds that form between caregiver and resident are often deep. We see each other at our very best, at our worst and every mood in between; we pour so much of ourselves into each other. I am still a girl without a grandma, still hurting from that loss. But it helps, in a way I couldn’t have imagined, to have so many of my residents glad of my return, and willing to share in my grief.

I seem to have a lot of honorary grandparents.

Reprinted with permission from CNA Edge.

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