Marilyn started working with Aware Senior Care in 2016 as a caregiver. In 2019, she was promoted to the Weekend Staff Coordinator position where she is responsible for managing caregiving staff and coordinating care from Friday evenings through Monday mornings. For the inaugural edition of the Caregiver Corner, Marilyn is our subject.
Marilyn began her work as a caregiver shortly after high school when her mother became ill with complications from diabetes. She has spent her entire career in health care settings, including working as a Certified Nurse Assistant, and she loves the opportunity to work one-on-one with clients, bringing them compassionate and loving care every day.
Caregiver Corner Q&A
When did you start working as a caregiver?
Marilyn: I’ve spent my entire career as a caregiver. Before we moved here, my family and I lived in Maryland. I was working as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). When we moved here in 2015, I took a break for several months because my CNA license didn’t transfer from Maryland to North Carolina. I knew that I loved working with patients. I had spent time in hospital settings and home health care settings. I found that my favorite jobs where those that allowed me to work directly with individual patients every day.
My first real caregiving job started shortly after high school graduation. My mother was a diabetic, and she started experiencing complications from her illness. I always knew that I wanted to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps; she was a nurse. However, before starting college right away, I decided to live at home for a while to help care for my mother. She ended up having a stroke and needing surgery, and I became her full-time caregiver.
I’d had a wonderful role model in my grandmother who was an incredibly caring person. I’m so grateful I was able to help my mother through one of the most difficult times in her life. After she got better, I went to community college and started to pursue my nursing degree, but my anatomy and physiology classes got the best of me. I refocused my attention on getting my CNA license. I’m so glad I made that decision. I really enjoy working with patients and am so grateful I get to continue the work I first started with my mother so many years ago.
How did you hear about Aware Senior Care?
M: It’s a funny story. I was shopping and went to check out when I saw a young woman wearing a t-shirt that said “Aware Senior Care” on it. She and I started talking, and she was telling me how wonderful the agency was and how much she enjoyed working there. I was a little skeptical, but a few days later, I went online to do some research about the company.”
“I loved how much educational information they provided for families and clients. The website wasn’t just about promoting themselves. I decided to apply for a part-time position, and a few days later, they invited me into the office for an interview.”
“Everyone was so friendly, I thought, “This can’t be reality.” But as I continued through orientation, I continued to be pleasantly surprised by how kind and professional everyone at Aware Senior Care was. At my first client meeting, one of the staff met me at their home and stayed with me until I felt comfortable with the new client. I didn’t have to walk in cold to the client’s home. That really impressed me.”
What makes Aware Senior Care different from other home health care agencies?
M: Tim and Gina Murray, the co-founders and owners, really go out of their way to find ways to care for their team, and that’s very unique for a home health care agency. Most agencies focus on the client above all else. Of course, the client is important, but if caregivers aren’t feeling appreciated, they won’t enjoy their job. And if they don’t enjoy their job, clients won’t feel like they’re getting the care they need.
When I saw how much emphasis Tim and Gina and the team put on their caregivers, it was amazing to me. They have a Caregiver of the Month Award and weekly “kudos” for a job well done. They both go out of their way to check in with their caregivers and see how they’re doing. They even offer a counselor to help with personal and professional job coaching and training if we need it. It’s incredibly helpful! Everyone wants to feel appreciated. We all want to know if we’re doing a good job.
Some caregivers will work at multiple agencies at the same time, maybe working two or three days during the week with one agency and working with another agency on the weekend. I never had the desire to do that.
In part, that was because Aware Senior Care always kept me very busy, but also, once you’re treated so well with an employer, why would I want to go anywhere else? Once I started here, I never wanted to leave. That’s how I’ve always felt and that’s why I’ve been here this long. I hope to continue learning and growing in this job and stay here a very long time.
The other thing I’d love to add about the agency is the team approach to caregiving. It’s really more than a team, these people feel like part of my family. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Do we get upset with each other? Sure. But, we can be honest with each other, just like you’re honest with your family.
Some people in the staff even call Tim and Gina “Dad and Mom.” That speaks volumes. It shows how we’ve connected to each other like brother and sister, parent and child. We look to Tim and Gina for wisdom and guidance and look at our teammates like siblings. We help each other and offer support or coaching where helpful. That’s key to me and makes this company so great.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
M: I love meeting new clients. When you talk with them or go into their home, you can see the needs right away. It’s a good feeling knowing you can help them and improve their lives in some way. We can often start services within hours of a client’s first phone call, and that feels good.
What would you tell someone considering a career in caregiving?
M: I think you can teach procedures and protocols, but you can’t teach empathy or compassion. You either have it or you don’t. If you’re not a patient person, this is not the job for you. You have to have love and empathy and compassion for people.
That’s a must. It really is key to this job. If you have those qualities, this is the best job. It’s very rewarding to see a client who was struggling with their health, start to heal. When a client calls us and tells us they don’t need us anymore because they’re mother or father is doing better, that’s not a bad thing.
That’s a good thing and means we’ve done our jobs! Even when our clients pass away, it’s sad, but there’s a rewarding aspect of that part of the job too. You know that they weren’t alone, you were there with them, you met their needs. You even helped them in death. This isn’t a job you take because you need money. This is a job you take because you truly love people.
You also have to be comfortable with difficult things. Many times, caregivers call me complaining that their client is being mean or is acting angry toward them. And I say everyone has a story. Clients are sick, they’ve just found out they have cancer, they’re forgetful and experiencing dementia.
These things make them feel angry. They’re hurting. I get it. Sometimes there’s nothing more we can do but just being there for them, listening to them. Fear can grip us and make us act in so many different ways. That’s part of what being a caregiver is about. We have to be comfortable sitting with people in their difficulties.
Tell me about your work as the Weekend Staff Coordinator:
M: I started this role in the office about a year ago. Prior to this position, I was working as a caregiver in the client’s homes, and I loved it. When this position opened up, one of the staff members at Aware Senior Care encouraged me to apply, so I did. I went into the job not knowing much about the “other side” of caregiving, but now it’s made me a more well-rounded caregiver because I understand both the administrative and caregiving sides of this work.
During the week, the coordinator staffs up the clients on our roster with caregivers. Then, on Fridays, I confirm our weekend visits. I also monitor our clients’ and caregivers’ needs throughout the weekend to make sure everyone is covered. Sometimes, things come up and someone needs me to step in for them. I love doing that.
I enjoy getting to go back into client’s homes and helping them. It helps me to keep my skills sharp too. I’m still learning and growing every day in this role, but I’m enjoying it so much!
Do you have a favorite client story to share?
M: Oh, absolutely. I have one story that I love to share. This was my first client with Aware Senior Care and her name was Miss Elsie. She was a really difficult client. Very difficult to please. After a few days, Gina called me and said that Miss Elsie told her she didn’t think I was a good fit and she’d like another caregiver.
So, I got a new assignment. A few weeks later, Gina called me again and said Miss Elsie wanted me to come back. I ended up staying with her for a year and a half, and she became like a grandmother to me. She actually died in my arms. I held her hands and rubbed her hair as she passed away. She taught me so much and shared so much wisdom with me.
Who would’ve known that’s how it would’ve ended up? I think about that a lot.
What if I hadn’t been willing to go back? What if I’d been angry or resentful about the situation? I decided a long time ago that when someone is being rude or unkind, it’s not them. It’s the situation underneath, something you can’t see or know, that’s making them behave that way.
No one wakes up wanting to be mean. There’s something else going on. And that was what happened with Miss Elsie.
As I got to know her, I learned that she’d had some childhood hurts and angers she’d never dealt with. She was depressed as a mother and felt she wasn’t the best mother to her children. That really ate her up inside. Then, knowing she had end-stage kidney failure. That was really hard, too.
So many things were going through her mind about how she didn’t get it right, and now she’s at the end of her life. She was wondering how to make amends with her children and her family. In the end, we were able to discuss so many hurts and pray together.
She opened up to me, and before she passed away, she told me I’d been her angel. She wanted to push me away, she didn’t want me around, but finally, she realized that I’d been just what she needed. It was such a beautiful experience.
What role has your faith played in your work as a caregiver?
M: For me, my faith is everything. It is the foundation of my work as a caregiver, and it gives me perspective in my work. I’m a woman of faith, and for me personally, I can’t imagine doing this work without my faith.
Of course, we follow the client’s lead. If they start talking about their faith or invite us to pray with them, we join them in that discussion, but we’re always very respectful of their personal beliefs. Caregivers are often with a person as they’re dying. Having the words, being able to encourage the client and their family through death, I don’t think you can do that kind of work without faith.
I think we also have great role models in Tim and Gina. They don’t talk much about their faith but we see it every day in their actions. One time, several years ago, we had a client who was ailing and didn’t have family in town.
During the winter, Tim and Gina would go to her home and shovel the snow off her sidewalk and driveway. None of us even knew about this, but that’s just the kind of people they are. They do things like that for our clients and throughout the community simply because of their faith.