Saturday, 18 May 2013

Derek Changed My Life by Astrid

Hello, my name is Astrid, I'm 32 and I live in Belgium (French is my mother tongue so I apologise in advance for my grammar mistakes!).

A lovely Tadpole asked me if I would like to share my first experience as a volunteer in a care home for the elderly and how Derek inspired me to do so. It’s my pleasure to share it with you. I hope it's not to too boring.

I can really say that Derek has changed my life. I don't say that pompously, I just say it because that's the humble truth.

I saw the pilot episode last year and, like many of you, I fell in love with Derek and with Broad Hill. Last December, I lost my job as a graphic designer in a newspaper and I was totally paralysed by anxiety and what’s going to happen next.

My professional road seems to me like a mess, with no university path, just one little diploma in art school and various experience. I thought that nobody would want me because I do not enter in any box. Lack of experience in graphic design (and someone told me I was too old!), not qualified for paperwork, I’m an awful seller and crowds give me panic attacks. I was seeing myself like a lost cause.

I’ve tried to find another job in graphic design but I failed. And something in me was screaming: this is not your place! This is not what you want for the long term! I was completely torn and lost.

And then Derek came back.

After watching the
 six new episodes several times, the answer was in front of me. It helped me to see how I could change my situation. It was the click I was waiting for, for years.

Mr Tadpole Hitler has created a great website dedicated to Derek and he ran a competition: say in 100 words why you love Derek series one. And Ricky made me the happiest girl in the world by choosing my entry as one of the seven runners-up - one of the best moments of my life! 

Astrid with her Derek print, signed by Ricky Gervais

After that, the decision was made. First, I’ll be a volunteer in a care home for the elderly.
Second, I will work in a care home as, well, I don’t know what yet - but I will find it!

I've contacted an organisation who arrange volunteering and it took several weeks before I start. I met the home staff first to discuss my motivations and why I choose to be a volunteer and fortunately, everything went well. And my first experience was absolutely great.

It was on the 16th of May and I was a bit scared of course, because I've never really been so close to old people. I was afraid of being clumsy or not knowing what to do or not to be able to manage my emotions. The home is quite big, 105 residents, and 80% of them are disoriented or at an advanced stage of Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. Some don't leave their beds and some are terribly affected by severe CVA. But all the staff of this home are fantastic and supportive.

I was impressed to see so many people in one go, close to the end of their life and so weak.
But you can see in their eyes and smiles that there’s more life than you can imagine.

I've tried not to be overwhelmed by my emotions and to do what I had to do. That’s the hardest part for me, find the balance between having empathy and keeping my cool because I know I take the risk of dissolving into tears: some are in a very sad situation. My smiling and caring nature came back quickly and I've had one of the most amazing afternoons of my life. There was a birthday party with a choral (no “Gettin' Jiggy with it” unfortunately - haha) and a little lunch. I've seen a Lady who is 100 year old and who’s still beautiful.

I’ve talked a little with some of them, serving coffee and smiles. One Lady told me “Thank you for your kindness Miss”.  At this second, I knew I've won my golden ticket.  Like Ricky said: 'Kindness is the only thing that matters.'

It was very moving for me to know that I was at the right place, for the first time of my life.
I was in my element. Finally. A quote said by Derek was always with me: I likes ’em being happy... They ain't got long so every minute is important.'’ This is so true.

The volunteers I've met are fantastic people too, funny and full of life. In a few hours, they taught me a lot and I can’t wait to see them again.

And now, it’s time for the big step: next week, I'll register in a school to study the job of 'auxiliary nurse for elderly.' That was a tough decision because I have to go back to school in September for two years but I think I've found my way - my vocation. Actually, I can't imagine doing anything else.

I need to help the elderly because I've always loved them; I love their company, taking care of them and giving them all I have in me. I know I can’t save them, but I know I can give some sweetness.

I don't know why I didn't choose this way earlier. Maybe I wasn't ready, I don't know. I guess everything arrives at the right moment. Derek was the start button of, I'm certain, a very rich experience for me. And my Love, my friends and my family give me incredible support.

Ricky, your work has an immensely positive impact on my life and I hope you'll continue to make us laugh and cry for many, many years. But most of all, I hope you'll continue to make us think.

Thank you for everything Ricky, deep from my heart. Whatever close-minded people might think, you are someone rare with a big heart because only someone with a heart bigger than earth could create characters like Derek, Hannah, Dougie, Kev and my favourite - the lovely Lizzie, with such sincerity and sensibility.

I treasure my photograph of Derek that you've signed. I see it as the symbol of a new story.

Maybe I’ll become a good care worker in two years?… I've crossed my fingers. I know it’s going to be tough, I know I’ll have to get through difficult moments and I’m afraid to fail, but I’ll do it and I’m absolutely sure it's worth it. I have a lot to learn and I know I will have to deal with my emotions.

I should not be afraid to fail but be afraid not to try, right? And I will. With all the kindness and respect I can give to these lovely and precious people.

I can’t wait to start. 
Thank you for reading me.

Take care of yourselves and of the ones you love.




  1. Good luck Astrid, dear girl I am sure you will be.a brilliant carer x

  2. I do love the character Derek,I do this job looking after people with learning disabilities,young and elderly,and do you know what Iam blessed with the best job in the world.I support all my men to the best of my ability to achieve their outcomes in life ,very rewarding ,just thought I would share this .Amanda

  3. Thank you very very much, it means a lot to me :)

    Astrid x

  4. good luck, we need more people like you. I'm sure you're going to do great