Sr Germaine Aoulassa, a young Sister from Cameroon, has just finished a two-month internship in France. She shares with us her experience of working as a nurse at the Motherhouse, Kermaria, in Brittany. For her, it was an enriching discovery of a new reality.
After finishing my nursing studies, the Congregation allowed me to live a “pilgrimage to the origins” and a work experience at the Holy Family, the Unit for the dependent elderly (an EHPAD) at Kermaria, Brittany. Originally from Cameroon where EHPADs and retirement homes don’t exist yet, this reality was new and very enriching for me.
I was struck by the openness of the caregivers, Sisters, and volunteers who work in this structure and the good atmosphere they created. All of this made my integration easier. Working with the nursing staff, I learned something about the realities of care in France, as well as techniques for how to approach and create relationships with the elderly. Working with dependent elderly people requires physical, mental and spiritual energy. A love for the work, well-organised care, teamwork and humour are forces that help to bring great humanity to this mission. I received a lot from the residents and the staff. For my part, I brought what I am, with my difference.
Walking at the same rhythm as the other
I discovered that supporting people at the end of their lives means walking at their pace, according to their state of dependency. I also discovered that taking time was very important in order to get in touch with others – listening, caring for them, washing or helping them to shower or take a bath, helping them to eat, entertaining them. I often had to say and resay the same sentence. This obliged me to develop patience, kindness, to enter into the world of each person in order to understand them and so offer appropriate help. I experienced the importance of communicating through touch, a look, silence or just a few words. I found joy in serving, we communicated, and for me it was a way to live out the Gospel, to encounter Christ.
“We are old and we live well!”
On my arrival, a Sister said to me “We are happy to know you, you see, we are old and we live well! “Amazed, I wondered what she wanted to tell me. As I went on, I discovered that their joy came from feeling surrounded, loved, and visited. The activity sessions, the visits, all of these moments of relationship were times when everyone forgot their pains, their fatigue and felt good. Prayers led by the Sisters and the fact of making them aware of the life of the Congregation allowed the dependent elderly Sisters to continue to feel like Daughters of Jesus.
“If I only listened to myself …”
Several times I heard someone say, “If I only listened to myself …”. One day it led to a profound exchange with a Sister. This sentence and what she told me, continue to resound in me, “If I would only listen to myself …“. When I listen to myself, I listen to my weaknesses, my shortcomings, my sufferings… that discourages me, but when I listen to the Lord in me, I choose life and I abandon myself to Him.
Living with the residents during these three weeks, I understood that happiness is about consenting to the reality at the heart of our fragility and giving it meaning. It’s about looking at the graces that the Lord gives us every day and saying to oneself, with humour, as this Sister did, “We laugh, we have fun, we visit, we touch, we take care of each other and we live well!”. By observing the attention they paid to each other, I learned that you are never poor enough that you cannot give, that you cannot love.
Through this experience, I understand that our life is a gift, that it is made of continuous passages and that it is good to know how to live one day at a time by welcoming the graces of GOD always given.
Sr Germaine Aoulassa fj