A Fool for the Forgotten
Back in March, as many lost work and the nation adjusted to the rapidly evolving normal, the call went out for help in long term care homes. Originally intended to support the elderly who are most at risk for COVID-19, this new focus on those living in long term care uncovered an extensive history of neglect in Canada.
This neglect was born out of a society and government that had forgotten its aged population, and the full extent of apathy was revealed when the Canadian Military was sent into the homes as triage to stop the escalating death rate. When the call went out, when I saw the news reports show the desperate need of staff, my heart burned with a desire to throw myself into the fight and respond to the national moment.
Despite my lack of any medical education, and with the help of a third party, I landed a job at a Long-Term Care Home.
I was what was classified as a ‘Social Engagement Aide’ (SEA). My role was to ensure that there was communication between the residents and their families during the time that the resident isolated from visitors. If the resident had no opportunities to chat with a loved one, then I would work to supplement the gap in social engagement. My lack of in-depth knowledge on anything medical would have rendered me no where near an acceptable candidate to work at in long-term care under normal circumstances. But these were both unusual and (clearly) desperate times. My skill set ended up working for me in the end. My natural extrovertedness, admittedly old-souled personality, and confidence in my mission allowed me to offer a very human (non-clinical) presence to the residents; essentially what they wanted outside of direct clinical care.
Thankfully, the long-term care home I was employed at had the mission to ‘uphold human dignity’ at its core, and thus was not subject to the same abuses that many other homes were found to be rife with. At the same time as the outcry to look further into how the government could better the situation in long-term care homes, there was the great cacophony that erupted in the United States as a result of racial politics. Canadians naturally followed suit, and before you knew it, the state of long-term care homes were put on the back-burner as far as the public was concerned.
The nature of where my work was located had called me out of my hometown and away from my family, and COVID had scattered my housemates to the wind. I found myself living in a house with no one but myself to keep me company. As work began and I had to adjust to my new state in life, I must admit, I experienced a profound loneliness. During the heart of quarantine season, the majority of my social interaction, and certainly all of my physical interaction was with the residents of my Long-Term Care home. I had no family nearby, and all friends were social distancing or isolated. Safety precautions also ensured that this work-to-home isolation was uninterrupted. I was tempted to think that the loneliness that beset my heart was pointless, but I knew if I was called to this work, then God was also permitting my heart to experience this suffering. But why?
“You will carry their cross alongside them” was the answer I received in prayer.
Christ revealed my own loneliness as a share in the loneliness of those I served. If they were isolated not just physically, but socially, then I would be, too. The entire situation reminded me of Simon of Cyrene when he was compelled to help Jesus carry His Holy Cross. (Luke 23:26)
It was in this suffering and continuing to get to know the hearts of the residents and their family that I realized the beauty of all this; that my desire to serve was matched with an invitation to love, to offer myself as a gift, and to be a stand-in for the family that could not see them. I would suffer my loneliness gladly.
Helping to carry this cross brought a new sense of interior freedom. Confidence in my mission brought about a fruit that was unexpected: that of being a fool for the residents! To be childlike with them, and to bring out their childlike heart in return. Taking a cane and pretending it was a hockey stick, challenging them to push-up competitions, or simply engaging in banter that they were not used to. I made myself the house fool and was privileged to witness them laugh, or crack the (until then) unusual smile.
Seeing and experiencing their joy, I realized the great gift this mission had allowed me to enjoy: privileged access to their hearts, while also exercising a new capacity to love. In their isolation and distance between themselves and their families, they were not seen. But the Lord saw them, and how privileged was I to know that I was part of Christ’s answer for them, their families, and the home itself.
They have and will forget my name. Their difficulty might be once again on the Canadian backburner, but for this season, it was a profound joy to have been one of the fools who was blessed to share in one of their last laughs.
As the world integrates into the new normal of post-sensational COVID-19, I hope we look at the less sensational vulnerable segments of our society that are on our peripheries, and work to remedy their own struggles.
Benedictus es, Domine, Deus patrum nostrorum. Et laudabilis, et gloriosus in saecula.