Learning to Work as a Carer from Pure Observation 

The beauty of working as a carer is nothing stays the same – each new client offers an opportunity for us to deepen and expand. The deepest beauty is when something within ourselves is exposed. Whenever we sense resistance or reaction in our body, is there something there for us to take note of? A communication?

As carers, is our role to judge or react to a client for how they are or is it simply an offering that there is more on the table for our learning?

I found myself supporting a woman with an advanced progressive neurological condition. In her mid-years she had no upper or lower limb function and was in a wheelchair. With a career in property and interior design, she lived in an immaculate house, designed and built by herself with every technological device and stunning views, now found her own body was no longer within her control. She could speak and did so with tremendous control and command.  Her every expression received as exacting because of its precision, detail and repetition. This client still in the drive of life continued to manage work projects for her business – carers on her behalf managed all e-correspondence, to-do lists, ordered supplies, phone calls and zoom meetings.

When a client cannot move at all without the support of another, she must communicate every movement through her voice. She still had all five senses and could above all speak. The only way she could control events in her life was through the spoken word. More so because her standards were (as we saw it) exacting, she expected everything to be done in the way she would have done them.

For example, brushing her teeth, cleaning her face and brushing her hair tasks assigned to me.  Everything had to be done in a particular order and way. The specific task was not the problem, but manner of her expression, abrupt, repetitive, harsh, scolding. It seemed nothing was ever right and it wasn’t. We could never do it in the way she would do have done it for herself.  My first time working with this lady was also a factor; I was learning how to be with her.  The offering in brushing her teeth – focus, attentiveness, delicacy, sensitivity. Brushing her hair could take 20 minutes, it had to be done in a particular way. And her orders repeated over and over. The offering here was attentiveness to the detail of what she wanted.

What was reflected back to me was how difficult I found being spoken to in a manner that I considered to be abrupt, critical and judgemental. It confirmed what happens when we have an expectation of how we should be spoken to and what happens when an expectation is not met. We often react.

For a carer to have any expectation of ‘how’ the lady should express by spoken word is a judgement and places a condition on the relationship. The only true way, is to follow her instructions without question.

It also revealed a need to be in control, to have choices, both for client and carer. For client, having lost control of almost every other area of her life, the one area she did have control over was the movements of those who lived with and worked for her, her husband and carers. For myself, as carer to receive and follow an order and not be allowed any input or contribution also felt like a loss of control. Meaning I also desired to be in control.

Loading the washing machine had to be done under her supervision. We were not allowed to load the machine unless she was present and then told how to put clothes in and in an order specified by her. This was a daily routine. What was the offering here? Obedience.

There are some situations in which obedience is called for.

Not blind obedience, not following orders at expense of self, but following orders because it is the only response required. When we do, it becomes a strength, not a weakness. The obedience I speak of here and what I was called to observe in myself, was responsiveness to the client’s orders (needs) without question and not ever needing to ask why?

This also introduces the aspect of surrender, the surrendered self does not fight with what is, but simply moves in its flow. To work in service of another means you follow their need, their lead, not yours.

Any reaction to what was asked of me resulted in tension, criticism, and signalled I was not truly with and for the client, but for myself. 

And the source of this?

Sometimes the person we are supporting can trigger a memory, for example of how we were spoken to or scolded as child. This can lead to a reaction in situations seemingly unrelated.  This is something I recognised in myself.  How was it resolved? I was with the client for two weeks only, before I left and still in development with little time to move through and fully arrive at full responsiveness. However what was received was greater awareness of myself for sure. What was called for through observation and sensitivity was an appreciation of the client’s situation and how loss of all motor abilities made her become something she was not.

I learned to look less with my eyes and respond to the true essence of the lady.

There is much to observe and learn in every client-carer relationship. As carers in situations such as this we can simply re-adjust our perception and focus on purpose: why we are there? We don’t need to know why something is asked of us, we can just say yes. To follow an instruction without question, is not a weakness but a strength. To be in full service of another is not subservience or at ‘expense of self, but humbleness and joyfully accepting the treasure offered.

1 thought on “Learning to Work as a Carer from Pure Observation ”

  1. A big thank you for this piece of writing. I really appreciate the focus made on what we are really offering as a carer and how this is achieved by and through us. As a carer it invites me to go and experiment a deeper surrender and humbleness during the time I spent with the lady I care for. “my lady” is my greatest reflection (24/7) and when reaction arises it draws me back to the absolute necessity to open myself to what is uncovered and let go of all that is in the way between her and me.
    Really after this reading nothing could ever be the same…

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