Lawrence Burney spent 30 years shaping the minds of children as an elementary and middle school teacher in Arizona. When his daughter graduated from high school, Burney felt like it was finally time to retire and relocate to Oregon, where his daughter was enrolling in college.
Looking for part-time work to supplement his pension, Burney recognized the similarities between caregiving and teaching: both require patience, empathy and compassion. He began working as a professional caregiver for aging and disabled adults in 2013.
Nothing Personal, but It Is Personal
After spending years as a middle school teacher, Burney learned not to take certain behaviors personally. In the same way he discovered that catching someone passing a note in class wasn’t a reflection of his teaching skills, through caregiving he has learned not to take client irritability to heart.
“It’s really not about me,” says Burney. “It’s about my clients’ needs and how I can listen, help and serve them.” In the four years that Burney has worked as a caregiver, he has realized that many people operate on feelings and can feed off of his own emotions. Being aware of his own feelings has helped him remain in control of potentially bad situations.
“I go into every home with a calm, patient and friendly demeanor,” says Burney. “That really helps set the right tone for the experience I have with each client, especially for clients living with Alzheimer’s or dementia.”
Reconnecting Alzheimer’s Patients With Their Passions
One of Burney’s clients has late-stage dementia, and in initial conversations with the client’s wife, Burney discovered that he had been an avid golfer. With a golf course less than a mile away from the client’s home, Burney decided to help the client reconnect with his love of golf.
They often walk over to the golf course with the client’s old clubs and spend time together on the putting green—some days for just 5 minutes and other days for up to 20 minutes. Afterwards, Burney and his client head over to the patio to enjoy an iced tea together and admire the view before walking back home.
Another client had a passion for politics for many years, so Burney pulls up CNN on his phone and sits with the client so they can review the headlines and discuss current events. “I do whatever I have to do to help make a difference in their lives,” Burney says. “Whether that involves golf, news, cooking a warm meal, or listening to the same story—it really is rewarding to see my clients so happy.”
On Caregiving and Loss
Burney thinks one of the best parts of being a caregiver is the opportunity to forge great relationships with people. Burney spent over two years working with one client and continued to visit him after he relocated to a memory care facility.
Losing clients is never an easy experience, but like most things in life, Burney sees the silver lining. “Grieving is a direct reflection of how much someone meant to you,” he says. “But it’s always a struggle to find balance and figure out emotional boundaries.”
Burney credits his team at Right at Home Southern Oregon for support to help him navigate loss and the challenges that come along with caregiving. “I feel so blessed to be involved in such a great community, with great friends,” he says. “And I am blessed to have had two careers in this life that I’ve loved.”
Hilary Young is a writer dedicated to helping older Americans live healthier, more fulfilling lives. She currently blogs for HuffPost50, Fifty Is The New Fifty and Medical Guardian. You can find her on Twitter as @hyoungcreative.