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[Love and help]

Cathy explains why she chose her current work and what it means to her

As a teacher in nursery and primary schools, I had been helping children learn and grow up for around twenty years, when I decided to retire from the teaching profession in 2011. I was then fifty five years old. As I could not legally be fully retired and did not desire to stop working either, I reflected on what I could do to keep helping people. The answer was not long in coming! Why not help the elderly at home? Skipping from young generations to older ones would probably be no easy task but I decided to try the adventure! And that's how I became a home help.

The old ladies I am working for today were rather sad and pessimistic at first. They had no "Joie de vivre" at all. They were suffering from “depending on someone who did what they used to do so well before”…I then felt that I could not restrict my help to make their houses clean and welcoming. I wanted to do more than help them in their daily lives. I wanted them to regain their dignity and to see them merry and happy to be alive! I soon realised that the sine qua non to win this challenge was to be merry and happy myself! And that became a daily challenge!

I started to get them to talk about their past interests, hobbies and passions to discover what could cheer them up. While discussing with them I amazingly discovered that we had some passions in common, which we could share and revive together. These old women could thus feel that their capacities, hobbies and passions do not belong to the past but are parts of themselves.

M.L. and I now sing songs that rocked her youth and my childhood. One day, while I was busy in an other room, I even heard her hum a small tune known by nobody but her! What’s more, she happened to start singing on a Friday and then suddenly stopped: she never sings on Fridays! She believes in this French old saying “who sings on Fridays, cries on Sundays!” Our most recent and greatest win goes back to the day when she sat in the room where I was ironing and sang three songs one after the other!

Together with D. we sometimes travel through space and time, watching geographical and historical documentaries on television and talking about them afterwards. From time to time, she remembers and tells me about the trips she did with her husband when he was alive. When she is not sure of what she knows, she looks in the dictionary until she finds the answer. Then she makes me read it. I learn a lot with her! As she has an opinion on almost all affairs of this world we can also share our ideas! She also likes talking about plants and flowers. She takes great care of those she has in her flat and in her tiny garden-her flat is on a ground floor.

When a teenager, G. had learnt how to play the piano for two years. When she was adult, she used to sing hymns in a church choir. She loves singing but when we met she did not dare to because she found that her voice was not pretty enough. At first I sang alone. Then gradually, she sang with me. And now she wants to sing everyday! She sings like a nightingale! Now, every evening, she selects the songs we will sing together the next day. And would you believe it? Amazingly, she recently proposed to sing “Amazing Grace” in French! We also try to play the piano on her grandson’s little electronic keyboard. I wish she could play Beethoven’s 9th Symphony also known as the European Anthem, which we both love!

The game was worth the candle, really! As of today, those very sad women welcome me with warm kisses and when they wave goodbye I can see their beaming smiling faces! I am so happy for them!

One day, a friend of mine –whose wisdom I greatly appreciate– very rightly reminded me that "Knowledge is one of those things that if you share it with someone else, you both end up with twice as much". Aren’t Love and Happiness two of “those things” too?

article by Cathy


to reflect on something to think deeply about a subject   the elderly old people
to skip from … to … to jump from … to …   a sine qua non something without which nothing is possible [this is a latin phrase]
a challenge a situation requiring a lot of skills and efforts   to cheer someone up to help a person feel happier
amazing (very) surprising, unexpected, wonderful   to rock to move gently from one side to another, as a mother rocks her baby to sleep
to hum a tune to sing with your lips closed   to iron to smooth clothes with an iron (fer)
to take great care of something to very carefully look after something   on the ground floor at ground level in a building
hymns religious songs of praise, often sung in church   she did not dare to … she did not have the courage to …
a nightingale a small brownish bird with a melodious song (often heard at night)   “Amazing Grace” a very recognizable Christian Hymn (by John Newton, an English poet and Anglican clergyman)
electronic keyboard musical instrument looking like a piano keyboard   a National Anthem a national song [the French national anthem is called 'La Marseillaise']
the game was worth the candle the results justified the efforts [idiom]   beaming smile a broad smile making the smiling face as radiant as the sun
wisdom the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgement

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revised : 2014-02-06 / created : 2013-12-00

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