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Sandy Little

I was in my mid-twenties when I worked as a Caregiver for Sandy Little in London. Sandy was in his late seventies and living with dementia. Living in his own home, his wife died of cancer a few years earlier. I was his live-in Caregiver and Companion. Sandy was no longer able to do anything for himself. I had to get him out of bed in the morning, clean his incontinence wear, bath him (he was light enough that I could actually pick him up and put him in a bath), shave him, dress him, prepare his food, help him to eat etc. Simple. Day in, day out. I was off from Saturday 12h00 to Sunday 17h00.

I remember standing with Sandy at the top of the stairs, wondering if anyone will and out that it was I who pushed him down the stairs. Or had put the pillow over his head at night when he tried to get out of bed for the fifth time, waking me up. I was exhausted. There was no communication from his side, other than bodily functions that I had to clean up – he spat out food he did not like, soiled himself the minute I cleaned him up, and sneezed like a trooper with snot flying all over the show.

I got the idea that he did not like me. The sexy Australian girl who stood in for me on a weekend got far more cooperation from Sandy than I did. He even smiled at her…

I was exhausted, frustrated, and mostly at the end of my tether. Especially about not being able to sleep at night. I phoned my Mom in South Africa one Sunday evening, really not knowing what to do anymore. Her advice – sleep with him. Hold him. “Lê lepel met hom”. I always took my Mom’s advice as she was the Matron of an Old Age Home, but really…?

That evening I put Sandy to bed, on his side, and crawled into the double bed behind him. Where his wife used to sleep. I put one arm beneath his head, the other one over his bony body and held him tight. I was petrified that someone might walk in on us – thank God it was the days before “nanny cams” or I would have been red!

We fell asleep within minutes. I could feel the warmth of his body as he for once completely relaxed, falling into a deep, peaceful sleep. I woke up in the early hours of the morning feeling as if my arm had been amputated. I slowly and gently pulled my arm from under him and went to my own bed. From that night on, that was our ritual. Sandy slept through the night, every single night.

From that night also, our relationship changed. Sandy looked at me with eyes that communicated gratitude, and even smiled at me. I discovered his love for sweet potatoes (he was an ex-South African), and our mutual love for classical music. Instead of escaping from him by putting on my earphones, I put my earphones on his ears to share Mozart and Verdi.

I was devastated when his daughter told me that they are going to move Sandy to a nursing home. I was with him for almost a year. My heart broke when they drove away with him that day, I cried all the way to the tube station. I knew that no-one would ever hold him again.

Sandy died three weeks later.

Many, many years later we started Huis Ina Rens, a home for people living with dementia in Paarl. We had a few residents who did not do well at night, yet I never heard the Care Partners complaining. In a chat group I asked them one day – how do you manage this at night? There was a deadly silence. They all looked at one another…and then the one said “meneer, ons klim in die bed by hulle en hou hulle vas.”

We all need physical and emotional holding. Without it, we simply wither away, dying a slow, lonely death.

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