Gwendolyn "Gwen" Brackens' clients have called her "Angel." They often tell Gwen they do not want her to leave. When she explains that she has to share her caregiving skills with others, some clients count the days until Gwen returns.
That is why Gwen has been honored as CAREGiver of the Month for Home Instead Senior Care® franchise that serves Houston, Bellaire, Missouri City and Sugar Land. Gwen Brackens loves her job because she "is something significant to someone" nearly every day.
"From watching and learning about Gwen over the years, she truly has the passion, attentiveness and single-minded focus that is required to be an outstanding CAREGiver," Staff Coordinator Destiny Wesley said. "I probably do not tell her often enough, but she is awesome because she is so humble and she does not look for praise or special attention. As Gwen always says, 'I am paid to do a job, and I do it!' Gwen does her job well. For that, our entire staff is grateful. Gwen is such a hard-working, dedicated CAREGiver, and she is funny too."
Gwen, who has earned her CNA license and hopes to seek even more medical and care-related education, has worked for Home Instead since May 2009. While she has fun with her clients, she gives her solemn promise about providing the best care possible for them.
"I take my job seriously every day because I love the seniors, and I want to shine for them. I want every client to love me, and I feel they do," Gwen said. "I make that extra effort to help them in every way I can, and get to know them well. I tell my clients' families: 'You don't have to worry about your parents when I am with them. They are in good hands.' My goal is to be sent to the people who need me and then give them my very best."
Hurdles are not a problem for Gwen. "In the six years that she has been with us, I cannot recall her ever complaining," Destiny said. "Gwen will report to the office when she believes that something needs to be addressed or is a concern. She is always focused on making things better for her clients, and Gwen does make their lives easier."
Simply stated, Gwen said: "Caring for people is my life. I also take care of my 86-year-old mother. I try to keep her active and promote her socialization. I am a family caregiver not only for my mother but for everybody else in my family who needs it. When help is needed, they look to me for it, and I try to do all that I can for them."
Gwen touched on a variety of subjects, including her battle with stage 4 cancer nine years ago, how she uses that test to help encourage clients and her faith.
Question: Tell us about your fight with cancer.
Gwen: "I am in remission and celebrate it every day. I have some physical limitations, but they do not stop me from efficiently and safely taking care of people. Having survived stage 4 cancer while having chemotherapy and radiation, I know what people are going through when they are battling illness and infirmities. I have been in their shoes. I believe God wanted me to endure, and I am grateful to be here to help people. I press on. The 23rd Psalm is my favorite Bible passage because I have gone through the valley of the shadow of death with cancer."
Question: Has faith played a role in your job?
Gwen: "We are not here by mistake. God has a plan for each of us, and He loves us. I receive my blessing from being with my clients. This is my mission field. I do not push anything related to faith on a client, but I am ready to help if asked. I have sat alongside a client in a church pew during a Sunday service because of my commitment to them. We are soldiers on the battlefield of life, and I include my clients and their families in that thought. I am here to help them in the battle. I know my Heavenly Father blesses me for being with them. I am grateful for the little things. God has never let me go hungry and thirsty."
Question: Speaking of faith, how has your belief system helped with the toughest aspects of caregiving, the passing of a client?
Gwen: "I know God has left me here for many reasons, and one of those reasons is comforting those who are near death and their families. When death occurs, most often they have suffered a lot, but their suffering is over and they are in better hands. I do not take time off when a client dies because there are others who need my help, and I have a commitment to them. The husband of a client died, and I had to be there for her after he died. I told her, 'Your husband is fine and happy. He left in peace.' But I do not try to prevent her from grieving. I take her for walks and talk about it. I spend lots of time listening. It is better if they get it out."
Question: You frequently reference your commitment to your clients. Describe that.
Gwen: "I am here to take care of them and nothing else. I can work with anybody, and I have not had a problem with anyone. I have relationships with all clients and their families, and the amazing thing is that I learn something from every client. My pledge is I will be with them wherever they want me to go, if it is possible for us to do that safely. I encourage my clients. I let them know I believe they are doing well. I want them to celebrate every day they have."
Question: What about tough clients?
Gwen: "Some clients believe life has dealt them a bad hand. I once had to convince a client I had her best interests in mind and was not there to hurt her. In another case, a client's wife apologized for her husband's behavior, but I told her I ignore that conduct and do not take it to heart. They do not know what they are saying most of the time when they are bitter and despondent. I stayed with her husband until he died."
Question: Do dementia clients present an unusual challenge for you?
Gwen: "My mother has dementia, and my grandmother did too, so I understand quite a bit about the behavior. Home Instead does a good job of teaching and how to handle problems. They have new ideas that help. I get in there and talk with the clients and let them know everything is going to be OK because they need the reassurance. I try to allow them to remain as independent as possible while keeping them safe and I do the same thing with my mother. I allow them to have responsibilities if it is possible so they can feel good about themselves. This keeps them motivated and busy. I don't go overboard and push them to do things that frustrate them. I talk a lot with their families to keep them updated on their conditions."
Question: How is your relationship with the office staff?
Gwen: "I work with beautiful people who have always had kindness and respect for me. I cannot recall any problems, and everything they do is on point. I love them, and I salute Home Instead. I am glad to be CAREGiver of the Month and savor the honor, but the big thing is that my clients let me know I am appreciated. Some have told me they would never trade me for the world."
Question: What does the future hold for you?
Gwen: "This is a passion. I would not trade my job for anything, so I press on. I will keep going until God says different. I believe life is a journey, and so is caregiving. It is not for the faint of heart. I do the best I can each day for each client. I always try to make a difference in everybody's life, and that's what I hope to continue to do."
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