a younger person hugging an older a person showing respect

Call the Midwife: Lessons For Caregivers in Patience & Dignity

Today I’ve been sinking into my favorite oversized chair while watching Netflix. On a whim, I decided to start a nine-season show over from the beginning.

If you are at all familiar with Call the Midwife, you will, no doubt, be familiar with Sister Monica Joan. She is a veteran in the group, having been one of the very first midwives at Nonottus House. At the time we viewers get to meet her, she is elderly and forgetful, but full of mischief and with a penchant for cake.

Meeting someone with memory problems

When main character and new midwife, Jenny Lee, arrives on the scene, Sister Monica Joan greets her in this unusual fashion, “Venus and Saturn are now in alignment. It is entirely appropriate that you should appear!” She then produces a cake from a pot in the cupboard where it was expressly hidden from her.

She sits her down with said beautiful coconut cake and tea, and pushes her to help her polish it off in its entirety. Her antics are endearing to some and maddening to others. Those who can’t now see her worth are maddened by her seemingly nonsensical ramblings and overactive sweet tooth.

Moments of clarity for someone with dementia

Sister Julienne, though, is more delicate and patient with her. She knows that she worked hard to be a midwife against her family’s wishes, and that her contributions were invaluable. She tells Jenny Lee, “It is our privilege to care for her.” During a particularly clear and lucid moment at dinner, Sister Monica Joan chimes in on the conversation and explains an old case they are speaking of in explicit detail. The disbelief on Jenny’s face must have been apparent.

Sister Monica Joan addressed Jenny, delivering one of the most beautiful lines I think I’ve ever heard. It is especially beautiful since I can now relate it to my father's and grandmother’s lives. “See? I am not deemed capable of coherent recollection. But, some things are etched upon my membrane. They are preserved like watermarks on vellum.”

The fragility of youth

In another tender moment, Sister Monica Joan seems to symbolically speak of her own mortality. She arrives at Jenny Lee’s room with small plants with exposed roots in dirt in her hands. She says, “There is frost fingering its way beneath the door into the hall. You must take these into bed with you. You are young, you see, and your vibrations will stimulate the corms. They were mistaken into thinking spring had come. I am very much afraid that they will die. And the demise of something barely born goes against the sacred nature of our calling.”

Here, she is referring not only to the plants or their calling to protect infants but also to the importance and fleeting nature of youth. All lives are fragile and must be handled with care. That care shouldn’t be reserved only for the very young that Sister Monica Joan was trained to serve.

Continuing to provide care with patience & dignity

Just because we may have a relative or loved one who rambles through the kitchen cupboards or rambles through conversations, it doesn’t mean that their worth is lost. It doesn't mean that there won’t be some sparks of clarity, even if they are sporadic. It doesn’t mean that all the good works they did throughout their lives are gone. It also doesn’t mean we should lose our patience with them or talk to them roughly.

In those fleeting moments, they may understand and process more than we think. There are still things there etched upon their membranes that make them who they are. The impact a person has made and the fabric of who a person is isn’t lost with their memories or cognitive ability. Any good they did in their lives isn’t over or negated.

For those and a million other reasons, we should always defer to kindness. We should always, to borrow from Sister Julienne’s words, consider it to be our privilege to care for those who came before us.

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