I have worked on behalf of the elderly - the disadvantaged, neglected, abused, exploited or just plain demented, for all my adult life. I fell into this field quite by accident but quickly discovered I had a passion and affinity for this age group. Those of us who work with the elderly seldom choose this field; most often we get involved because our contact awakened some understanding or we've found out first hand how difficult it is to find services for our aging loved ones. Once in the field, the jobs may change but the clients we serve remain the same. We recognize this passion in others and our network of elder care providers is strong. We know that this is not something everyone can do, or do well. We all strive to achieve one common goal - to keep our elderly population as healthy and independent as possible while protecting them from the predators that try to part them from their money.
We understand that our jobs may be rewarding in many ways, but it is a largely thankless position. We are in the lives of others because they cannot do for themselves any longer and they resent us for it. We are despised by the ones we serve and by the ones we've removed from a position of power. Often times we stay with our clients until their deaths and even beyond. We manage their homes, their care, their finances. When they die we manage their estates, their funerals, their families. They come to us grudgingly and leave us with little more than the satisfaction that we have done as well as we could. It is our bond, one we all recognize, understand and hold sacred.
Monday, we were shocked to hear that one of our colleagues passed away suddenly in her sleep. She was not old; she was not unhealthy; she was not unhappy. An entire community of professionals who's job it is to protect, nurture and provide was suddenly hit with the realization that we lost one of our own without warning and without a damn thing we could have done. It was sobering, depressing. I guess when you spend your days caring for and protecting others, you feel somehow that you are immune to those issues you face every day on behalf of someone else.
Although we were not close, I held her in high regard. She worked in the trenches with the rest of us, and she was good at what she did. We took small comfort in the fact that she, like so many of us who deal with death and like so few who don't, had her final wishes planned out in advance. Her children were spared the heart wrenching hours of trying to plan a funeral for their mother.
Saturday I will attend that funeral, along with many of my colleagues, to bear witness to a life that served others, and served them well.
It is what we do.