One of the first jobs out of college that I interviewed for was Recreation Manager, a maternity leave position, at a convent. I know that having just graduated a mere 6 months earlier my chances were slim. I had no practical experience; although I understood the role of Manager and Recreation in the lives of the elderly, add to that I had life experience to fall back on, so I figured that those two skills would merge together.
The interview was conducted by the Director of Care (DOC) and the HR person on a sunny fall day in late September 2007. I was apprehensive as the residents were not only Catholic Nuns, but I had attended the all girls’ high school they had founded in the early 1960’s. The interview was grueling and nerve wracking. Questions were fired back and forth from each of the interviewees. I tried to answer all their questions the best way I knew how, which was upbeat and positive (as was and still is my personality), but left thinking ‘there’s no way I will ever be offered this position’.
In the meantime, I continued to work a full-time position at a private long-term care facility located in the outskirts of Toronto as a recreation aide. The entire time I worked there, we had no manager. There were only two of us and we both worked full-time hours at just under $16.00 per hour. I had been offered the Manager position after only working at the facility for a couple of months, but declined, as I knew that the department was not up to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care standards. It would take many months to peel back the layers and begin documenting the department accordingly. I was not going to put my job on the line if the Ministry decided to audit. Also, the salary offered was a low $32,000 a year position. Really? I would have to care for the Recreation needs of over 125 residents for such a low salary? No, I thought, not going to happen. I may have hated the department and how it was run or not run, but I fell in love with all the Residents. I was torn during this time and my heart was breaking.
Amid everything else I was going through, Mom, my inspiration and rock, had peacefully passed away that Labour Day weekend in 2007 at the age of 73. Over ten years I had cared for her and developed a routine in my life, which now, in an instant, had been obliterated.
The most heart-wrenching occurrence during that time was receiving the special condolence card signed by many of the Residents at the facility where I was working. Each of them personally signed their names and wrote a small note in their own handwriting. I was equally touched when I realized that one Resident took it upon herself to collect enough money to purchase a bouquet of flowers, that were handed to me on my first day back to work. We all shared many tears that day and I realized that I was in love with all of them. At that point, I made it my life goal to make sure all individuals living in long-term care would be well taken care of; I would not turn a blind eye to many of the wrongs that would be carried out over the years towards these incredibly caring and lonely individuals. By no fault of their own, they were ‘put away’; sharing rooms with strangers, and many confided in me that they would rather be dead then placed in a ‘home’. My heart broke. I also knew that individuals suffering from dementia could not speak for themselves, and quietly encouraged family members to speak on their behalf and not be afraid of the system.
My eyes were wide open and I didn’t like what I saw. I began to document all issues; good and bad.
Time would tell whether I would stay or go, but in the interim, I would continue caring, helping, and getting to know each and every Resident inside and out.