THANK YOU for all your suggestions/empathy on the coughing post. Today I am coughing more, enough more that I worked up the nerve to ask my boss are we supposed to call in sick when we’re coughing this much? And she said no, we just wear masks. So. That’s. Great. But I do feel better having checked: I was a little worried I’d be assuming they didn’t want us to call in sick, when actually they really did want us to, and they’d be like “Um, how did you not know we didn’t want you coughing on elderly people??” I have three kinds of cough drops in my work bag, and I plan to be medicated up to the gills. And perhaps I will bring something to sip.
Okay, I have a work story. I will change details to protect privacy, but none of this is medical anyway. Well, almost none of it. ONWARD.
I regularly go to… Do you know, this is hard to figure out how to say, even though it’s simple and in no need of tact. I go to a couple? I go to a man and a woman and they are married and live in the same house? I care for a woman and her husband, there we go. Their children are quite active in their care, which is good and not good, as you can probably guess, even if you’ve never worked this job. It is good when people’s families are involved, and it is good to see it, and it is sad when the families aren’t or can’t be involved. But grown children can be bossy and upset and stressed, and there can be family dynamics that are tricky to know what to do with, and also it’s usually the families who treat us badly, if anyone’s going to.
Anyway. The house is all marked up with things we should not use. There is one cabinet of dishes we can use, the Corelle and the plastic and the promotional mugs, and the rest of the cabinets are marked off with masking tape and “Don’t use!” signs. There is a shelf of towels we can use, and there is a whole linen closet that is verboten. There is a drawer of silverware we can use, and a drawer we can’t.
I have had two unpleasant encounters with one of the grown children, both of which involved the grown child very, very, very upset that, for example, an unauthorized towel had been taken out of a closet, or an unauthorized plate had been broken. (In neither case was I the one who had used the item, but I was on duty when the violation was discovered.) “There are plenty of everyday towels! I don’t even understand why this happened! Don’t people see the signs? What are they even doing rooting through those cupboards?? This china from the NINETEEN-FORTIES! There are too many people in this house!”
Well. In both cases, the awkward thing was that I was pretty sure it was the man of the house who went into those cupboards. The caregivers have no reason to go into them, and we can see the posted signs. But of course the man of the house may take out his own possessions, and frankly he’s not as clear as he used to be on which are which. The trouble is, I don’t know how to say to the upset grown child, “You know, have you asked your dad…..?” without sounding like I’m trying to blame him and get us out of trouble. And of course I don’t KNOW: there ARE a lot of us in and out of the house, and maybe one of us DID take out the towel from The Forbidden Closet. But since the closet is in her dad’s bathroom, I think the most likely explanation is that one of us forgot to put out a fresh everyday towel for him (we have to bring one up daily from the shelf of authorized towels downstairs), and he just opened the closet conveniently located right in his bathroom and took one of the ones from there. Why does this not occur to the grown child? Well, there are a lot of emotions involved. And sometimes it’s easier to blame us, since they can’t exactly blame their parents for using their own possessions.
But this is where I’m going with this. I had assumed that these special possessions were roped off because the parents at this stage of life have shaking hands and failing eyesight, and because sometimes they might for example use a very special towel to clean up cat barf in the garage. And that may be the case. But there’s more to it than that, because the man of the house was telling me how they paid thousands and thousands of dollars to bring these items from his wife’s country back when they were first married. Eight sets of china from a special china factory in her hometown. Thirty sets of special sheets. Beautiful embroidered towels. Boxes and boxes of decorative items. All of these things have been unused for 60 years because they’re too special. Most of them are in boxes in the basement, the same boxes they were brought here in. Some of them are in the cupboards, but only to look at, not to use. “I don’t know why we even brought them!,” he said.
“Well,” I said, searching for something to say. “Your kids will be glad to have them.” “Oh, they’ve been trying to get their hands on them for YEARS!,” he said. Oh. But?
Okay. So, possibly if you are roughly my age, you are picturing “the parents” in, say, their 60s, and the kids in their 30s or so. But the people I am taking care of are mostly in their 80s and 90s, so the grown kids are usually about my parents’ age—like, mid-60s. Is this reminding anyone else of poor Prince Charles, now past retirement age as he waits LITERALLY HIS ENTIRE LIFE to MAYBE get to be king? These beautiful dishes and linens, sitting in boxes completely unused as the decades go past; the grown kids, past retirement age, still not allowed to use the good towels. …Perhaps it’s not a perfect correlation with the Prince Charles thing.
I mean, at least in Prince Charles’s case, his mom WANTS the crown and is USING it. In this case, the parents don’t even WANT the dishes and sheets and towels, but they STILL WON’T LET THE KIDS USE THEM. And now the kids won’t let the parents use them. By all means, leave those things boxed up in the basement where they can do GOOD. The kids can move those boxes to their own basements AFTER the funerals.
Well. This line of thought does feel a bit…familiar. How many articles have you read in your lifetime, urging you to USE the good dishes, WEAR the good perfume, USE the things you’re saving a special occasion? Five articles? Ten? Two dozen? And how many of them used the imagery of how sad it would be to die without ever having used the good stuff? But it seemed more vivid to me when I was looking at people who were literally planning to die without ever opening the boxes in the basement, and their children reaching old age without opening them either.
ANY of us could die at any moment, of course, but at a certain point you’re out of the stage of “I mean really it could happen to anyone at any time” and into the stage where your caregiver can’t be certain of her schedule for the next week because you might no longer be on it. I would really love to be serving them their meals on the good dishes, and drying their hair with the good towels. It WOULD be sad if an irreplaceable 1940s plate got broken, it WOULD. But I’m looking at the two possibilities: (1) using the dishes many, many times and enjoying them each time, and ending up with a set that has a few missing/chipped pieces, or (2) never using the dishes, and ending up with a perfect set. That we never see. Because it is in a box. It re-motivates me to go ahead and use that little jar of expensive night cream.