If you haven’t walked in their shoes…..

I clearly recall the day that James* entered the facility I am employed at. His family just dumped him and left.
I was still a volunteer at that time and was assisting one of the Diversional Therapists in calling Hoy. A group of staff members walked past us with him. They were telling James that the car park was just on the other side of the building at the end of the path. I knew they were lying. The only thing at the end of the path was Violet wing. Violet is the dementia unit.Time passed and our game of Hoy continued when suddenly the DT stopped calling and said to me. “Look over there Sue. He’s climbing over the fence.”
I turned around to see James fall the last foot or so to the ground and land on his knees. Dropping what I was doing, I ran for all I was worth to get to him before he got too far away whilst my colleague ran to alert other staff.
James was angry. He was agitated and fiery. In introduced myself to him and shook his hand and asked what was happening. He began talking to me and his calmness returned. We were joined shortly by other staff. He turned on them calling them ‘liars’ and ‘bullies’.
So they sat him in a quiet place and spoke with him and continued in their attempts to steer him back toward the building and his room. James remained adamant that his only room was at home with his wife.

Later, I stood with a group of staff discussing the arrival of James. The conversation centred around his family tricking him by telling him that he was going shopping and then dropping him in the lobby of the facility and leaving.
My self-righteousness rose up strongly within me and I stood in judgement at my perceived callousness of his family. “How could they do that to him?” I asked. “It sounds as if they care absolutely nothing for him at all and just wanted him out of the way.”

Yet less than six months later my cloak of moral indignation at what had happened to James lays around me in tatters as I and other family members resorted to lies and half truths to coax my father in-law into the very same wing that James lives in (now with his wife).
Far from being callous and uncaring, our motives were driven by love and the inability of my sister in-law to fully care for him at home any longer.
Dad’s dementia had advanced to the degree that he no longer recognised his home of the past 60 years as being his and kept begging family to take him home to the dairy farm he grew up on so that he could help his father with the milking.
The final decision to place him (and my mother in-law) into care came when Mum was taken to hospital after a series of falls, the last of which fractured her pelvis and compressed two vertebrae in her back.
Just a week prior to this occurring, Dad had found a hidden set of car keys and taken the dust covered car (with filthy windscreen) out of the shed for a drive one night. Gone for more than an hour, the family was frantic until he returned home not understanding the fuss and drama that he had walked back into.

Putting both parents into care has been one of the most difficult and heartbreaking decisions that the Garden Gnome’s family have ever undertaken. Having been a part of the family for over 20 years now, it has affected me very deeply as well. Many tears have been shed and the guilt we are all carrying is enormous.
Every member of the family is now entering into a new chapter in their lives and not one person is coming through it without some degree of emotional scarring.

I have learned my lesson.
Unless you have walked in another’s shoes, you have no concept of the guilt or burden that they carry.
Caring for the aged is difficult.
This path we all walk now is filled with learning curves and bumps.
The fact that I am working in the facility that Mum and Dad are in makes it a little more difficult. I see both sides to the issues now and I have a new awareness of dealing with dementia.

Life is for learning. Life is for living your own version of the best that it can be.
It is individual to each person.
We cannot know what another thinks or feels until we have walked the same path as them.


*Name has been changed to protect identities


4 thoughts on “If you haven’t walked in their shoes…..

  1. well daughter Iam glad that you can be supportive of the garden gnome and family .I have now reached the stage of losing things and it only seems like yesterday that granny was at that same stage
    I had a school friend say to me her sister who has a walker has just gone for a holiday to America ,she then said you can do anything if you try .The same thought entered my head “dont criticize me
    until youve walked a mile in my shoes ” how easy we criticize others in life .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thinking of you as you walk forward through these uncertain changes together.
    I can understand in part Suz, as we have been dealing with an elderly family member this year and helping her through Stroke and memory loss.
    Thanks for sharing xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dementia is such a horrendous way to spend the final chapter of one’s life. And it is so heartbreaking for a family. May you have grace and strength in this difficult stage of your life Suzanne.


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