Bringing My Work Home

December 08, 2014
Jean Mesendick


I was taught, very early on, to keep home and family life separate from my life at work. My first job as a Registered Nurse was on an oncology/hematology unit at a major metropolitan hospital. The more seasoned staff gave me constant tips on how to leave the pain and heartbreak we struggled with, at the hospital. I was admonished not to call in on my days off to check on patients. I was sternly warned not to give my patient’s or their families my home phone number. I learned to encapsulate my work and to hold it at a distance. It was a matter of emotional survival for a young nurse fresh out of school. I am now, today, struggling to unlearn all those lessons.

My husband and I are living with his Parkinson’s disease. He was diagnosed 12 years ago at the age of 48 and, as can be the case with young-onset Parkinson’s, he is struggling with the early stages of dementia. It is essential that I start to Bring My Work Home with me. I am now faced with the realization that, like it or not, my work is coming home with me.

At a recent Alzheimer’s Association Symposium in Denver I had the distinct pleasure to sit in a session conducted by Megan Carnarius RN, MT, NHA. Her presentation on communication compelled me to take furious notes, to laugh deeply, to wipe away tears, and to re-examine my own communications with my husband. She gave poignant examples of how to speak more slowly, be less inhibited, take and give non-verbal clues and to generally celebrate each successful communication. I nodded in agreement and thought; of course we must do these things.

This makes perfect sense.

I know that I have felt discouraged by conversations with my husband that took too long or were at times confusing to me. I have been frustrated at the need to repeat myself or to patiently wait while he searches for the correct word or name. The insight that I have gained from the elders and their talented and amazing care partners somehow did not make it through my front door. Somewhere on the drive up the mountain highway to my home, I shed the experiences of my workday, just as I had all those years ago working with cancer patients.

While I have been consciously building growth and joy into our home life, I somehow neglected the powerful need for connectedness that comes with the sharing of ideas and experiences with someone you love. I have come to expect less and therefore I have received less.

I am certain that there are countless others who share this same journey; those that give completely of themselves at work, then come home to start another shift as a care partner to a loved one.

We all recognize helplessness as the pain we feel when we only receive care and never have an opportunity to give care. Do we also recognize helplessness as the pain of always giving care without the opportunity to receive it?

I would love to hear from you. It would be wonderful to have you share how you manage the transition from a life-partner relationship into a care-partner relationship. How do you Bring Your Work Home in a way that is abundant and nurturing for everyone?

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