By Paul Protheroe
Volunteer stories: The business with Bill
NB: Names have been changed out of courtesy for the patient.
Bill was my first client under the Amitabha Hospice caregiving scheme. When I was allocated a role with Bill, my imagination went into a spin. I imagined a cranky, skeletal man like the father in Steptoe and Son! Even the excellent training,based on common experience that tried and tested Buddhist principles did not slow that apprehension.
A typical Kiwi bloke
Bill lived in a high-rise apartment near St Lukes with his third wife, who was at least thirty years younger. He was a typical Kiwi bloke. Being close to his generation and having the same upbringing and culture made it surprisingly easy to connect with him.
He did grizzle – but I could see this may have been caused by his predicament; he was bed-ridden and had serious health problems, which were being treated by extreme medical means. Understandably, this powerlessness made him demanding at times. His wife always needed copious amounts of money and Bill found this irritating.
Building a solid relationship
Bill had been in the construction business and made a lot of money over the years. He claimed his adult family had “ripped him off” and suspected his new wife had the same tendency. He had no connection with his children.
He eventually sold his apartment and divided up the estate, mainly with his current wife. He moved out west and ended up in a converted garage. My caregiving continued. Both his wife and her family lived in the adjacent house.
Bill enjoyed my weekly visits and found in me a person whom he could unburden his anxieties onto , especially as his health slipped. He found the behavior of his wife’s family stressful and talked to me as if I were a therapist – but we also discussed things of interest to him, like climate change
A change of scene
The subjects we discussed distracted him from the irritation associated with his crowded living quarters and family woes. When it became obvious his life was ebbing, Bill was placed in a local hospital. I continued to visit him but discovered some tasks I had carried out for him previously were done by hospital staff.
Off and on I took him to the supermarket for odd luxuries, using a wheelchair to move him about. He loved these outings. Bill was a lonely man who did not generally socialise, but enjoyed the perky nurse aids who controlled his pharmaceutical needs!
What he gave me, and the end
As his health failed, so did Bill’s ability to communicate effectively. Through him I developed a relationship that taught me patience, compassion and a skill at recognising the desire of people to understand those close to them. I hoped that this attitude would be universal.
Fortunately over time, Bill came to a understanding with his wife despite being ‘miles apart’ in terms of culture and generational interest. His belief that money could somehow ‘encourage’ love was badly misplaced.
Bill died on ‘my watch’. His passing definitely strengthened my resolve to help as a caregiver at Amitabha and enrich the lives of people in the community who really need company.
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