Quality of Life
Walt came into our lives when we lived in Los Angeles, California. He worked at the same company as my father who was a mentor to the young, up-and-coming new employee at Manufacturers’ Life Insurance Company. When my family moved from LA to Honolulu, Hawaii, Walt kept in touch with us, oftentimes flying through Honolulu on his way to Maui where he vacationed from time to time.
We hadn’t seen Walt in a while, so when my mother died in September of 1994, imagine my delighted surprise when I entered the church for my mother’s funeral service and there stood Walt near the altar, a friend who had flown to Honolulu from Toronto, Canada where he had relocated years prior to work in the head office of my father’s company.
At forty years of age, I ran up the aisle of the church and threw my arms around him, so thrilled to see our family friend and so blessed that he traveled all the way from eastern Canada to honor my mother and our family by his attendance at my mother’s service.
Fast-forward twenty-four years to Monday of this week when eighty-three-year old Walt D. called me from Toronto to congratulate me on my novel, Requiem for the status quo. He had just finished reading it and couldn’t wait to talk to me about my accomplishment. “Irene, there is no reason why your novel shouldn’t be on the New York Times Best Seller List!” I thanked him for his very generous review and we then talked about the book’s subject matter (Alzheimer’s disease and its effect on families) and how he, in his golden years, had witnessed dementia’s hold on many of his friends. Since Walt and I communicate by postal mail several times a year (he does not own or use a computer), I was well-aware of his involvement with the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada where he volunteers and participates in their equivalent of the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Walt visited my father after my Dad’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, even while my father was in the middle of his Alzheimer’s journey. Walt made a point of keeping in touch with Dad, knowing the window of opportunity would come to a close in time.
I spent nearly a half hour on the phone with Walt this past Monday, feeling so close to this man who had entered our lives way back in the early 1960s, and who had remained a part of our family for almost sixty years. Friendships don’t have to end because of distance and time; when you stoke the flames they can survive and be contributory to one’s quality of life, as Walt’s has been to mine.
Kindness doesn’t recognize the barriers of distance, time, and even age.
Kindness can live on if we make the effort to nourish it.
He doesn’t have to.
All of us came into this world without guile, judgment, or well-practiced hidden agendas. We didn’t learn that type of negative behavior until we got older and became seasoned in the fine art of selfishness and deception. I know, those are cruel and unfair words for me to say because I’m quite certain most of us do not purposefully act in a manner that is disingenuous or self-serving. With that said, however, I also know that one hundred percent of all babies are not capable of such mind games.
Our grandson – fully reliant on his parents, grandparents, and other adults – has every reason to consciously act in a manner that always guarantees the adults in his life will serve his every need. Fortunately, he doesn’t yet know how to do that. The innocence and pureness of his untainted mind has no room for such chicanery.
When my husband (his grandpa) repeatedly makes that silly noise that draws laughter from our grandson, the little guy isn’t running the following commentary through his head: Okay, that noise is kind of boring me at this point because it is SO yesterday, but I should probably laugh each and every time so I don’t hurt the old guy’s feelings. Nope, it doesn’t even occur to him to pretend because he is genuinely tickled by it. The laughter that comes from this absolutely adorable eight-month-old person is honest and outward-serving, not inward-serving.
When his mommy drops him off at our house on the two days we watch him every week, I can oftentimes be heard saying, “Is that my grandson? Oh my goodness, it is my grandson, I’m so happy to see you!” He breaks into that delightful, heart-melting smile of his, exuding pure kindness by his obvious delight at seeing his Grammo and Grandpa. When he smiles like that I think to myself: You’ve made my day, just by being you.
Our grandson gives out kindness free of charge, a kindness that isn’t dependent on his current circumstances, regardless of what they may be. Innocence is such a beautiful thing, isn’t it? A pure mind – that consequently holds only pure intentions – is one of the most valuable commodities on this earth. What a privilege it is for my husband and me to be on the receiving end of such goodness.
Many thanks go out to his parents for entrusting us with this grandparenting opportunity..
It’s really easy to be kind when life is going grand.
Clarification. The kindness gene resides within me, just as it does in you if you feed it and let it flourish. I feel absolutely honest saying that my pattern of thinking reflects the best of kindness one can imagine. At the very least, my intentions are pure.
With that said, however, when I’m feeling less than 100% – say, 25% – I have to work hard at not letting others be on the receiving end of that less than whole person that I’ve become. I’ve had a lousy night of sleep while also fighting seriously inflamed sinuses? Ugh, I must rein in my struggles and not take it out on the receptionist at the doctor’s office, or the supermarket employee. I sincerely don’t want to be responsible for ruining someone else’s perfect, gloriously, healthy, well-slept day. (Gawd, I’m envious of those who have been given the gift of sleep.)
All it takes is one look, one word – or the omission of a word – to spew miserableness onto someone else.
Kindness is a way of life for me but sometimes it threatens to take a break from the norm and that’s when it’s needed the most in the world. You see, I’m not the only person who has less than stellar days. I’d be self-centered to think I’m the only person the world takes a dump on now and again. Everyone in this world is vulnerable – everyone – and far too many are on the brink of giving up. We are all in this together, in good times and in bad.
I vow to not contribute to the latter.
- My first job in this industry was in the corporate office of a very fine assisted living and memory care company. In time, I decided to work in one of the company’s facilities so I could spend more time with the residents and families who chose our company for their LTC needs;
- When I left the company, I took several years off to care for my father who had Alzheimer’s disease. A few years after his death, I became a certified long-term care ombudsman for the State of Washington – an advocate for vulnerable adults living in LTC settings;
- Concurrent with my ombudsman work I became a trained Alzheimer’s Association caregiver support group facilitator, providing a listening ear to those on the caregiving path.
Given all that experience, I’ve seen and heard of many unfortunate and nasty occurrences where residents and patients were denied the basic rights each living person should expect to receive, especially those dependent on others for their well-being and quality of life.
I’m sorry to say that some nursing homes, assisted living/memory care communities, and adult group homes do not employ sufficient staffing to meet the needs of their residents. I can confidently say that the government agencies that oversee the LTC industry are also understaffed. When complaints are called in, those government employees have to apply grease to the squeakiest wheels and must turn their fire hoses on the most out of control fires in their case files.
That’s where you and I come in.
We must be the squeakiest darn wheels we can be so our complaint(s) are attended to.
We also need to be the hottest, most devastating fire imaginable so that our vulnerable loved one’s rights are respected.
Nursing home call lights are being ignored so that residents/patients are left to defecate and urinate in their adult sanitary garments on a routine basis. Not only is such an act demeaning to the poor soul with no option but to let go of his/her bodily wastes, but said wastes are sure to cause skin breakdown and a urinary tract infection that is not only extraordinarily painful but can also be life-threatening.
What does the family member/good friend do about this indignity? They need to complain vehemently to the administrator of said facility and when she/he does nothing or very little, family and friends contact the local area’s LTC ombudsman program. This website will direct you to ombudsman resources right where you live: National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center.
Your local ombudsman program will investigate, work with the facility’s staff, and if need be, get the full force of the law to come to the defense of those in need. State ombudsman programs are staffed by paid and volunteer employees, therefore their staffing levels are usually higher than many government agencies. These ombudsmen all receive the same extensive training required for such a vital role. Once you’ve reached a dead end at the facility, ombudsmen are your most active line of defense. They are passionate about what they do and they will ceaselessly advocate for you and your loved ones. Their proximity to appropriate resources and their intimate knowledge of residents’ rights laws makes them an approachable and viable alternative for the common man’s (yours and my) needs. Caveat: if you suspect criminal activities such as physical or sexual assault law enforcement needs to be immediately involved in the matter. Additionally, severe lack of care that endangers the lives and well-being of adults more likely than not will also require law enforcement involvement.
Adults in long-term care settings are a reflection of you and me. By that I mean they were once active and self-reliant adults, just like many of you reading this piece, but they now find themselves unable to fend for themselves and need you and me to step in for them. Imagine, if you will, being in their shoes, unable to speak up for yourself. If you or I ever find ourselves in a similarly vulnerable situation, wouldn’t you want an advocate to step in on your behalf?
Advocacy for vulnerable adults falls on all of our shoulders. You can make a difference in the life of your loved one. Won’t you please step up to become their most important advocate?
2017 was a year of conflicting emotions for me. There were many good times. These two stood out: our grandson was born and my novel, Requiem for the status quo, was published. But there were also times I’d like to forget, and once my hip gets better after this past October’s bionic replacement, that will become one of the most forgettable events of the year.
Kindness, however, wins out and drowns out the not-so-pleasant occurrences that can cause stumbling blocks to our gentle psyche. So on this last Kindness Friday of 2017, I’m posting links to a few of my favorites in the hopes that while I’m encouraged by past Kindnesses, you can be as well.
June 30th, 2017: walk away from cruelty
April 14th, 2017: kindness trumps all
March 17th, 2017: courtesy on the road
March 10th, 2017: my husband’s perfect eyesight
January 6th, 2017: 1st Kindness Fridays – Mall kindness
Lucas has several grandparents and even some great-grandparents who dote on him to no end. Aunties, Uncles, Great Aunties and Great Uncles, so many loving family members so that he will never want for love. We all go out of our way to assure his happiness and well-being, especially now while he is so dependent on us for each day of his life.
All three of our daughters had active grandparents in their lives. These weren’t just long-distance relatives who sent them cards now and then; they were tactile, involved family members who added greatly to their day-to-day lives.
I didn’t have grandparents, well, that’s not true, I had two grandmothers and one grandfather but only saw them for a total of maybe six times in my entire life. My dad’s father died before my mother and father were even married so there was no chance of me ever making his acquaintance. Grandpa Desaulniers died in a hospital when a doctor administered the wrong medicine to him, a medicine that killed him even though Grandpa’s reason for being admitted to the hospital was an extremely minor one. I never had the privilege of experiencing his kindness but I am certain Grandpa D’s character was also reflected in the way my father treated me, my brother and sister, and my mother.
And his addition to all of our lives? A kindness that nurtures us adults and provides us with yet another reason to be glad that we’re alive in this world – a world that doesn’t always reward us so kindly.
Nicole Brodeur, a writer for the Seattle Times newspaper, posted this article about a Costco employee who always went above and beyond his normal duties to make the customers’ days better than when they arrived at the store.
Fifty-six-year-old Tom Goessman contracted polio as a child and got around in a wheelchair. While working at the Seattle Costco store, he used a standing wheelchair while validating each customer’s receipt before they left the store. But that’s not all he did. He would make a game of guessing the amount spent just by looking at the goods in a customer’s cart; more often than not, he was right on the money. He would also draw pictures on the customer’s receipt if that customer was accompanied by a child, something fun for the kids to look forward to.
But all of a sudden, Tom was no longer at Costco’s Seattle location; customers were more than a little concerned. The Seattle Times has a column titled, Asked and Answered which provides an opportunity for people to contact the newspaper with queries that are on their mind. Turns out, many Seattle Costco customers took advantage of that column to discern the whereabouts of their beloved Tom. The person who became the highlight of their Costco warehouse shopping trips was nowhere to be found.
After some research, the newspaper discovered he had moved to Glendale, Arizona after being invited to visit that state by one of Costco’s customers, a man whose son is also paralyzed and who thrives in the dry, Arizona weather. You see, Tom gets life-threatening infections each year because of his polio; the damp, Seattle weather being an aggravating factor. Tom spent some time in Arizona two years in a row and was pleased to discover that his infections became a thing of the past. So what did he do? He relocated to Glendale, Arizona, and took on the same job he held in Seattle.
When columnist Nicole Brodeur wrote her original article about Tom a colleague of hers suggested, “If you want to restore your faith in humanity, read the readers’ comments.” Ms. Brodeur knew how much vitriol can be included in readers’ comments and so doubted her colleague’s assessment.
The comments under an online news story are a saloon I step into with one hand on my holster. One person makes a valid, thoughtful point, but then two stools down, someone pops off with a sexist or racist comment. Someone else weighs in on that and one scroll later, a full-on brawl has broken out, the subject of the story long forgotten.
That was not the case for those readers who responded to her article. The comments were filled with positive stories about their interactions with Tom during their Costco warehouse shopping expeditions; they missed him so much! The kindnesses that Tom extended to busy Costco shoppers elicited more kindness, revealed in the shoppers’ recollections of their brief times spent with him.
It’s been said that hate breeds hate but I’m convinced just the opposite is true. Kindness generating kindness is what I’ve experienced time and again in my life; even the smallest of kindnesses can douse the flames of hatred.
And in the world in which we’re currently living, don’t you think it’s about time hatred was put in its place, once and for all?