I can’t pick just one!

Amy Hynes is the Administrator at Heron Pointe Senior Living, in Monmouth, Oregon.  She celebrates an ‘Employee of the month’ focusing on creating a culture of kindness and grace.  Amy invites the residents to nominate employees for this special recognition, as they are closest to the Care Partners, and will have heartfelt feedback. 

Amy and her leadership team were reviewing nominations, and read this employee nomination letter from Carol Webb, a resident at Heron Pointe.

This is Carol’s Letter to Amy

When I first came here, I was filled with anger, hate, and pain; but mostly I was filled with fear.

I had to leave my home of over sixty years.  I had to leave those that were my friends in my neighborhood during this time.  We raised our children together.

I had to give up my freedom to come and go as I liked because I had to give up driving.  I really felt like I was no longer a person.  Just a thing. Just a responsibility for my kids, both physically and financially.

But as soon as I walked in your door, I was surrounded by compassion and love.  Everyone I came into contact with welcomed and helped me at every turn. All the girls and young gentleman treated me with great respect and kindness beyond my expectations.

When they found me crying, they held me and cried with me. 

When I was lonesome, they took the time to talk with me.

Sometimes they found me playing cards by myself and sat down and taught me a new game.

They bathed me, taking away my embarrassment and shame.  They helped me accept and change my ostomy bag even without gagging as I was inclined to do. 

They helped me get around from place to place, telling me how and where to find the laundry room, dining room, hair salon, and more.

They became my new friends and family.

Each one of them became my dear friend, helping me find the important things when I had lost them – things like my smile and my heart, my hope, and most of all my courage.

God Bless all of the care partners, the housekeepers, the cooks and servers, and all who work here.

I discovered I gave up nothing – and added everything to my life.

I love you all!

Carol L. Webb

P.S.  I can’t pick just one – you are ALL the Employee of the month! 

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” – Margaret Mead

About Carol

Carol was born in Hood River Oregon and lived there for 10 years before moving to The Willamette Valley where she stayed until moving to Heron Pointe in February 2019.

She married her husband in 1958 after the Korean War. Carol made clothing and blankets for the family to cut costs. Her typical day was spent sewing, taking care of children, and working on the farm. She even drove a wheat truck for 10 years! Carol was a homemaker, a Cub Scout leader and taught Sunday school.  Carol says her greatest accomplishment in life is her 3 children. She said, ”They drove me crazy, but they are sure a blessing.” At Heron Pointe Carol enjoys feeding and watching the birds, sewing or embroidery and listening to old western music. She loves people and helping in any way she can.

Are we ever too old to play?

Children have a full-time occupation. It’s called PLAY! Let them be occupied by it from their early years and into their twilight years.”  Vince Gowmon

It is widely accepted that Life Enrichment activities bring vigor and life to senior living, but, nonetheless, you may be surprised to learn what has been the most popular and well-received activity I have led over the years.

As Life Enrichment Directors we are taught that activities should be “age appropriate,” but exactly what does that mean?

Throughout my forty-four-year career in senior care, I have witnessed older people transformed through laughter and play. Of course, individual cognition must be considered, but overall most residents, regardless of cognitive abilities, respond in a positive manner to childhood games.  

Games, songs, and rhymes from our youth generally hold a special place in our memories.

Many of us can easily recall the words to a nursery rhyme but forget what we had for dinner the day before. I have found that most adults find comfort and pleasure when reminiscing about their childhood and the games they played.

I believe we all have an inner child that requires nurturing from time to time, and we must let that child play without judgment. The game doesn’t matter if it brings engagement, laughter, camaraderie and happy thoughts. I experience all these things myself right alongside residents as we play the most popular game.

I was hesitant to introduce this active game for fear of it being considered too childish for independent living residents. I purchased one large beach ball and decided to give it a try after we completed our balance class. Little did I know that it would grow into a twice-weekly occurrence and that I would need to purchase an additional ball to add to the excitement.

So, what is this most popular of games? Kickball!

Yes, kickball, the timeless playground favorite.

In our version, we deploy two large balls into a circle of residents who then hit, kick, punch, and bounce them back and forth. I play along and am able to see the years wash away revealing a room full of happy, laughing inner children. People are moving and stretching and having such a good time that the game’s energy carries on long after we finish. Players often recount their kickball exploits in the dining room and share another laugh with each other.

Since beginning this activity, our group has grown, and we now welcome between twelve and sixteen people each session. Residents have embraced kickball and I am so glad I decided to give it a try and let them judge its age appropriateness.

How about you?  Laugh.  Play. Embrace your inner child.

Leo Buscaglia figured it out when he said, “I am often accused of being childish. I prefer to interpret that as child-like. I still get wildly enthusiastic about little things. I tend to exaggerate and fantasize and embellish. I still listen to instinctual urges. I play with the leaves. I skip down the street and run against the wind. I never water my garden without soaking myself. It has been after such times of joy that I have achieved my greatest creativity and produced my best work.” 

Vanessa Uhrig, Life Enrichment Director

About the Author: Vanessa is a “farm girl”,  who was born and raised in Canby, Oregon, and now working at Shorewood Senior Living in Florence, Oregon.  She had a strong bond with her grandparents who taught strong work ethics, morals and the value of honesty. They provided her with love and respect for her elders from an early age. Her grandmother encouraged her artistic and creative side resulting in a passion for cooking, painting, quilt making, crocheting, drawing, crafts of all kinds and a closet full of “bits and bobs” that will be used someday. Prior to coming to Shorewood, Vanessa was a cook at an assisted living community. Vanessa lives in Florence Oregon and is enjoying everything it has to offer. 

Vanessa loves nature and all animals. She currently has two dogs and four cats, all rescued from the humane society. Vanessa is the proud mom of one daughter, Emily, who is, not only her best friend but also a scientist with a Ph.D. in Zoology. When she isn’t at work, Vanessa can be found busy outside in the flower beds or making something crafty. She is happy to be at Shorewood to share laughter, build friendships, and make a difference in the lives of the residents.

Are we “Caregivers?” or “Care Partners?”

“Most people agree that the world would be a better place if we all cared more for one another, but despite that initial agreement we find it is hard to say exactly what we mean by caring.”   – Nel Noddings, Caring and Social Policy    

As an eldercare professional or family caregiver are you sometimes surprised by the amount of time you spend in the caregiving tasks?

Do you ever feel that the snack or meals to prepare, the hands to wash, the shower to give, the transferring into and out of bed or wheelchairs, the assistance with dressing, toileting, and eating, the medications to give, or the laundry to do is getting in the way of engaging in relationship with the person you are caring for?

  • What if we adopted a new way of thinking about care and incorporated it into the heart of our caring rituals?
  • What would our practice look like if we lifted-up the daily chores of caring as honorable rituals and essential caring practices in partnership with one another and the person we care for?
    Care is not a one-way street
    In a culture that typically views aging as a period of decline, I believe that no matter how old we are or what challenges we live with, life is about continuing to grow.  I work with Care Partners and elders and families.  From them, I  have learned that care is not a one-way street, but rather a collaborative partnership.  It warms my heart to see caregivers embracing their person-centered elder-directed roles as ‘Care Partners’ -as active participants in the balance of giving and receiving.  Together, care partner teams strive to enhance the well-being of both the person providing care and the person receiving care.  It is a partnership. It is a relationship.
Caring is not only a physical task. 

Caring requires understanding, relationship, and partnership. In routines such as washing and dressing, feeding and comforting, I have witnessed a transformation of daily caring rituals through care partnerships into opportunities for engaging, connecting and learning.  I have seen  Care Partners and Elders learning every moment the deepest lessons through the caring partnership.

If a person is receiving care and does not have the opportunity to give care or even have a say in his/her own care – they become helpless and hopeless.  In a care partner relationship, the elder adult is empowered. 

In the past, caring may have been viewed as a minimum standard of keeping an elder adult safe and clean, or as something ‘anyone’ could do.  

In the emerging future, care must be viewed as an intentional practice that connects us to one another, requires specialized knowledge about elders, about learning, and human development.  

  • Caring rituals are a science
  • Caring rituals are an art form.  
  • Caring rituals enhance the elder adult’s physical, spiritual, emotional and social well-being.
  • Caring rituals compel us to be intelligent, thinking, respectful, state-of-the-art-care partners.  
  • Caring rituals allow us to be partners in the caring relationship – empowering the vulnerable person to teach us how to care by listening, observing and partnering for that person’s well being as well as our own.

To care we must seek to know many things. We care with plans, purpose, objectives, and heart.

Families trust us with the care of the oldest citizens in our communities.  The caring rituals that elders and families seek from us have the potential to shape our unique identity as Care Partners.  

The best of our Senior Housing Communities become second homes of elders and their families and our care partners.  They receive comfort and confidence in joining us, teaching us, and partnering with us.

 As Milton Mayeroff said, “In the sense in which a man can ever be said to be at home in the world, he is at home not through domination, or explaining, or appreciating, but through caring and being cared for” (On Caring published 1971).  


Jean Garboden, Director of Education & Innovation at Compass Senior Living

About the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.

Story Telling – the power to transform

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”– Rudyard Kipling

The Power to Transform

Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, and challenge. They help us understand. They imprint a picture in our minds. Our storytelling ability, a uniquely human trait, has been with us as long as we’ve been able to speak and listen. Not only do people love to tell stories, but people also love to hear stories!

Listen to this tiny story of Bob Brophy, who lived at Peachtree Village in Roswell New Mexico.  What a wonderful tiny story from Mr. Brophy’s library of his lifetime! (As you listen to the audio -read the transcription below the story)


Bob Brophy, storyteller…and here comes a sailboat south… here’s a man and woman on board stark naked sailing the ship… They were buck naked… I was so stunned…. It made me forget my good manners         

TRANSCRIPT:  After the storm was over we went in on the inland. We got on the canal and went out into Virginia…oh damn, my memory is failing me, but anyway we were sailing just the two of us on a yacht going north up this canal; and here comes a sailboat south, and as we passed about 20 feet apart, here’s a man and woman on board stark naked sailing the ship, and He says “Hi how are you, what’s going on?” They were buck naked. What am I going to talk about to these people? I didn’t’ have enough good manners to wish them a good trip too. I was so stunned. I remembered that all my life. It made me forget my good manners.


“Every time an old person dies, a library burns to the ground.”  African Proverb

The Elders are truly ‘human libraries’  with stories ripe for harvesting! I just got back from a community in Illinois and was captivated by the tiny stories I heard.

We have a unique opportunity to harvest the wisdom, the humor, and memories we hear every day. We are in relationships with elders who have journeyed almost a full century on this planet. Through their stories, we connect with one another while giving our resident storytellers the opportunity to reconnect with what was once taken for granted. We give them the opportunity to share their memories for generations to come. And, the tiny stories can be preserved forever in digital media and libraries.

Through the simple process of capturing these adventures, challenges, and wisdom acquired on their life journey –  we create a profoundly enriching experience for both the storyteller and the recorder.


To hear more tiny stories from Elder Storytellers around the United States go to the Tiny Stories Page, and get ready to smile, and be filled with the legacies of elderhood preserved here.

If you are interested in preserving your own tiny stories, or the stories of someone you love, please contact me, and I will be happy to help you save your library of tiny stories too!


About the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.

A rising tide raises all ships

“Don’t give away our secrets” says the executive of the senior living company. We all want to maintain our “competitive edge” in business. You want a niche, a differentiator, the Purple Cow. The problem is, most people think that the Purple Cow is achieved by sitting in a room trying to out-think their competitors. 

I’ve been asked to do a presentation at the Spring Expo for the Oregon Health Care Association. I love speaking and I love sharing knowledge, so I have no problem jumping at the chance. I’ve presented before at a couple of the OHCAevents. I very much respect the organization and their efforts to assist senior living providers with support, advocacy, training, and resources for both the regulatory and innovation arenas. Helping with one short presentation is a fun way to give back for their support. They are an organization that fosters connection and collaboration. 

The enthusiasm for knowledge-share and collaboration is also something I wish more businesses would do. Our industry (any industry, really) is riddled with companies that say they want to work together to advance the field, but they hoard “proprietary systems” or information. They think they are better, more innovative, or progressive. The truth is, the family tree of the senior living world stems from the same “Adam and Eve.” We’re all related somehow. Sure, we’ve got a different approach and philosophy than others. The services, though, won’t change much from place to place. 

What I wish more companies would do, though, is recognize one thing: a rising tide raises all ships.

If we truly do collaborate to bring the best ideas together, we create better care and better environments for all. That means a better environment for all now and in the future—our future. Eldercare isn’t just now. It isn’t just for the “Silver Tsunami”. It is the future of many generations that we are working to improve. The more we let go of our insistence on secrecy, the more we improve for all. The more we improve for all now, the more our own futures improve. Collective improvement means the public will desire to use our services more. The value presents itself when the person using the goods or services is involved in the process of its creation and therefore, adoption of the service is a natural step in the process. Sharing is the first step toward a better future. 

Let’s rise together.


About the Author: Amira Fahoum, Director of Operations – NW Region for Compass Senior Living, spent over ten years working her way through a variety of positions for national senior living management companies. For a couple of years, she spread her wings at an international not-for-profit association in the education technology field. While she gained valuable experience, she realized her true passions are in senior living.

Amira is a graduate of the University of Washington and lives in Eugene, Oregon with her husband, Michael. When not working you’ll find her on the golf course, running, volunteering for road runs, working with college students as Co-Chapter Advisor for the U of O Evans Scholars program, or traveling around the world.

Amira has a passion for experiencing everything life can offer and creating meaningful experiences for others. She’s happiest when she can make others smile. Helping elders become comfortable, have a purpose and enjoy life to the fullest is her mission.

A Saga of the newer shoes – An Elder perspective

Harriet’s gym shoes began to disintegrate at exercise on Friday.  Small chunks just fell on the floor.  Friends recognized what happened before we did and handed some of the scraps to us, with comments about the age of the shoes. . . and us.  Well, we had two days to replace the shoes, before the next class.  Harriet really didn’t want to shop, but reluctantly agreed.

What a hassle for me, a man trying to find shoes for a woman, in a store with no help in sight.  If one considers size, style, brands, color, and price, there were overwhelming options. A friendly customer helped me because I couldn’t read the details on the boxes.  I picked out one that I thought might work.  Without a shoehorn, it took all my best effort to get it on her foot.  I was exhausted.

I searched further.  Same results.  I finally walked to the cashier and asked if someone could help.  A woman introduced herself and said the “shoe person” was out to lunch, but she would try.  That took another twenty unproductive minutes before the “shoe person” finally arrived.

Harriet was not at her best.  Her answers were “I don’t know” or “it doesn’t make any difference to me”.  About an hour later, she agreed to go with a pair: Black, Size 8.5, New Balance brand, Medium width, “Training” shoes.  Whew!

When we reached the cashier, she informed us that in the box were two shoes for the right foot.

The moral of the story:  If at 95, you want to buy new shoes for your wife, aged 96, you need a well-tempered sense of humor.  

(We returned them.  A pair of veteran SAS shoes has been drafted.  They just may last as long as we do)


About the author:  Richard Smith, Minister, and Community Leader

20161216_130223Richard and Harriet Smith have been part of the Florence, Oregon community for the past thirty years and live at  Shorewood Senior Living. Mr. Smith has been involved in countless projects, businesses, and groups.

His mother taught him that if you have leadership ability it will be discovered. There is no need to push yourself into it or brag about yourself. Mr. Smith believes there is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.

Mr. Smith attended Yale University where he met his wife. They were both attending the Divinity school there. He is a retired Presbyterian minister and has been married to his sweetheart for 68 years. They say, “Life is good basically – we both agree on that.”

In 1992 Mr. Smith was nominated for the First Citizen award for Florence in recognition for his work and contribution to the many groups and businesses.

 


If you are an elder adult or know an elder adult who has a story to share, please contact Jean Garboden at jgarboden@compass-living.com, or at 503-851-8668.  The voices of the elder generation can make us laugh, inspire us, and inform us!  We want (and we need) to hear from you!


 

My goal is to die young….as late as possible

I have been watching the services honoring President George H.W. Bush this week, and have been moved by the services and honorariums.

It struck me that President George H.W. Bush, who passed away at the age of 94, really understood that as we age, we can continue to grow and learn and strive to be the very best versions of ourselves.

The 41st President once told his granddaughter, journalist Jenna Bush Hager, “aging’s alright…better than the alternative: not being here.”   He felt it was more important to live every day to the fullest, to do the best you can with the information you have, and to take leaps of faith.

Sometimes, those leaps were literal! President Bush made eight skydives in his life, including jumps on his 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays. Those close to him say they expect that he would have jumped for his 95th, too.

Here are some beautiful words I heard from those who loved him, validating that George H.W. Bush accomplished his goal to live a long life and die young!

Memorial from President George W. Bush:

  • “I once heard it said that the idea is to die young as late as possible. … One reason Dad knew how to die young is that he almost did it twice. When he was a teenager a staph infection almost took his life. A few years later, he was alone in the Pacific on a life raft, praying that his rescuers would find him before the enemy did. God answered those prayers — it turned out he had other plans for George H.W. Bush.”
  • “In his 90s, he took great delight when his closest pal James A. Baker smuggled a bottle of Grey Goose vodka into his hospital room. Apparently, it paired well with the steak Baker had delivered from Morton’s.”
  • “He taught us that a day was not meant to be wasted, and he played golf at a legendary pace. I always wondered why he insisted on speed golf — he was a good golfer. Well, here’s my conclusion: He played fast so he could move on to the next event, to enjoy the rest of the day, to expand his enormous energy, to live it all. He was born with just two settings: Full-throttle, then sleep.”

Memorial from Historian Jon Meacham:

  • As vice president, Bush once visited a children’s leukemia ward in Kraków. Thirty-five years before, he and Barbara had lost a daughter, Robin, to the disease. In Kraków, a small boy wanted to greet the American vice president. Learning that the child was sick with cancer that had taken Robin, Bush began to cry.”
  • “To his diary later that day, the vice president said this: ‘My eyes flooded with tears, and behind me was a bank of television cameras. And I thought I can’t turn around. I can’t dissolve because of personal tragedy in the face of the nurses that give of themselves every day. So I stood there looking at this little guy, tears running down my cheek, hoping he wouldn’t see. But if he did, hoping he’d feel that I loved him.'”

Memorial from Senator Alan Simpson:

  • “The most decent and honorable person I ever met was my friend George Bush, one of nature’s noblemen. … Loyalty to his country, loyalty to his family, loyalty to his friends, loyal to the institutions of government and always, always, always a friend to his friends. None of us were ready for this day.”

Guided by Goodness, loyalty Faith and Fun

As I heard these memorials and others, I felt that our 41st president embodies our own Compass mission/values statement –  We strive to be  Guided by goodness, loyalty, faith, and fun.

Thank you Mr.President for being a good role model for us and for future generations to come.  You are a True North Leader and an example of True North Elderhood.


Jean Garboden, Director of Education & Innovation at Compass Senior Living

About the author: Jean Garboden is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit healthcare organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living in Eugene, Oregon. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada

The Beauty of Respite Care for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers

 “Caregiving often calls us to lean into love we didn’t know possible.”

― Tia Walker, from The Inspired Caregiver: Finding Joy While Caring for Those You Love

 

The first words that I heard from Carol when I met her were “I want you to know, I take care of my husband.”  You see, Carol has been taking care of her husband, who has Alzheimer’s, for nearly 7 years by herself. The last  2 years have been especially hard on her.  She got help from time to time from her church but nothing more than a few hours here and there to go to an appointment or go grocery shopping.

Carol said that she heard about our respite care services at Regent Court Senior Living where I am the Community Relations Director.  Carol said she wanted to learn more but was doubtful she’d use our services.

We sat and talked a little about how loving and experienced our professional caregivers are and reassured Carol that together we could craft the perfect plan of care for her husband – honoring him in our person-centered philosophy of care.  She nodded and reluctantly said it was more impressive than she thought it would be.  But we could tell it wasn’t creating the relief that she needed.

Then, we asked Carol about Carol.

We asked Carol what she enjoyed doing, where she enjoyed going, and who her closest friends were.  It was clear that she hadn’t thought of these things in a while as she paused thoughtfully – but then she began to open up and started to share, her eyes lighting up.

We heard about how she’s always wanted to go and see the US synchronized figure skating competition with her best friends who she hasn’t spent time with in years.  The apprehension we were greeted with quickly turned to optimism as Carol painted a picture of what she would do if caregiving were not her sole focus.

It was an honor to take care of Carol’s husband – and it was equally amazing to send Carol off with her bags packed to Portland, where the 2018 US synchronized figure skating championships were held at the Rose Quarter!

Family caregivers need care and nurturing in order to be in healthy relationships with their loved one, and connected to a greater community of support.   It was an honor to be there for Carol allowing her to take a break.

Everyone needs a break

For caregivers taking care of a person with dementia, taking a break is more than just advice, it’s a prescription.  The tasks involved in caring for a loved one with an age-related cognitive challenge can be overwhelming at times.  Many caregivers feel they must be ‘strong’ for their loved one and withhold their feelings and desire for “me time” because they feel obligated to put the needs of the person they care for before themselves.  All too often, this leads to caregiver fatigue, burnout, and an unbalanced life for both people involved.

The benefits of taking a break

We understand the importance of taking care of yourself so that you can take care of others. You may believe that you should be able to “do it all”, but seeking help does not make you a failure.  In fact, the opposite is true. When you take care of yourself, you can return refreshed and fulfilled.  Regular separations from caregiving tasks create times where you can pursue your interests and do things that replenish your energy and uplift your spirit.

Perhaps it has been too long since you’ve visited the coast or took a hike through nature.  When is the last time you’ve relaxed with a good friend with no worries about your caregiving duties?  When you are away from caregiving, do you feel obligated to return or are anxious about what might happen without you?

Don’t worry if the answers to those questions are not what you’d like for yourself…you are not alone and you shouldn’t be.

What is Respite?

Respite services are short-term stays, in a home-like setting for a few days or a couple of weeks, in a specialized memory care community.  The person you are caring for experiences the full benefits of an active and social community along with a professional care team trained specifically for the care they’ll need.

By providing families with the option of short-term stays for their loved one, they can refresh and recharge their batteries, with peace and confidence knowing that their loved one is in a safe, engaging and loving environment. It is a gift to your loved one and to yourself to take a healthy break and smile, knowing everything is well taken care of.

We are grateful we can be there for the person living with cognitive challenges, and also for the families. We receive the blessing too!

 


Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 5.15.53 PMAbout the author:  Zeth Owen, Community Relations Director at Regent Court Memory Care in Corvallis Oregon has worked in social services since 2009 and most recently as a case manager for Senior & Disability Services. He enjoys meeting new people and spending time getting to know their stories.  Zeth says that he knew his calling was working in service for elders after seeing the joy that spreads by caring for someone.   Zeth says, “the most rewarding part of the job is the impact we have on our residents and their families when they know they’ve chosen the right place.”

 

Regent Court was recently awarded the Senior Advisor best of 2018 senior communities – reviewed by real families.  As a State certified community with highly trained staff, families can rest assured their loved one will receive quality care and loving support. Contact Zeth Owen at (541) 758-8000 or by email  to learn more.

If it breaks your heart – follow that path

 

If it breaks your heart – follow that path     

The role of caring for others can make your heart sing!  It can also break your heart.  I have learned that when you find something that breaks your heart, you know you have found a path leading to your purpose and your advocacy.

When I was a young caregiver in a nursing home in the 1970’s, I felt excited and honored to have the opportunity to care for elders.  I took my CNA class and was ready to begin my journey. Little did I know at the time that this was my apprenticeship into eldercare and would one day become my life’s work.

Nursing Homes in the 1970’s were not like they are today.  Filled with anticipation of this honorable work, I  found that I was forced to line people up, wrapped in bath blankets sitting in ‘potty chairs’ outside the bathing room.  I was assigned the job of ‘bath aide’ and one-by-one the residents were wheeled in, and scrubbed down, and wheeled out.  Some of them screaming, or kicking, or crying, or simply silent.   When I indignantly spoke to the Charge Nurse about how this felt so disrespectful to me, she told me not to get too ‘attached’ to these old people as they are going to die soon anyway.

She said, “The tasks are of primary importance to keep people clean and fed.  Just do what you are told.” My job required turning contracted bodies every two hours, taking vitals, attending to incontinence needs, feeding 6 people at a time at a U shaped table, shoveling the food into their mouths like birds in a nest. I saw the look of horror, sadness, and resignation on the faces of these elders. And I was told it was against the rules to ‘get too attached.”   It was horrifying, and my heart was broken.

One overnight shift, around midnight I decided to ‘break the rules.’   I sat with a a very old woman.  She never spoke, and silently endured her situation. My hurting heart felt drawn to her as she was quietly weeping.  I sat next to her and I held her hand. I looked into her beautiful green eyes filled with tears, and I began to cry. I laid my head on her shoulder and I cried (actually I sobbed).  She began to stroke my hair, and then she began to sing softly. “Hush little baby, don’t say a word, Mamma’s gonna buy you a Mockingbird…You will be the sweetest little baby in town.” 

It made my heart sing In that moment – feeling her touch – hearing her voice – allowing her to care for me.

As I left work the next morning,  I was filled with a mixture of emotions.  The elder woman made my heart sing in a moment of brokenness.  At the same time, I was filled with anger and sadness.  I was heartbroken!   How could people who had lived long and beautiful lives be treated this way?   I understood that their bodies needed to be cared for, but how that was done was shockingly disrespectful.  It broke my heart to see people sitting alone in wheelchairs, slumped over at tables with no respect for the wholeness of their spirit. I was outraged that as a caregiver, I was not allowed to attend to the needs of the human spirit – the need to connect, to be loved, to be respected, to be self-actualized.

What breaks your heart can define your purpose

I left that job and didn’t return to eldercare until many years later, but this experience ignited a fire in my belly.  My heart went out to caregivers, who are deserving of  kindness, and opportunities to grow too in this important work.  I wanted eldercare workers to be respected as eldercare professionals. And while, yes, the tasks are important, there is no reason why caregivers cannot be inspired to practice care in a way that they can be in partnership and in joy with those they are caring for.

I came back to eldercare in Assisted Living in the late 1990’s.  In 2003 I heard about the work of Dr. Bill Thomas, founder of the Eden Alternative. Dr. Thomas has focused on changing the culture of care since the early 1990’s. His approach to person-centered, elder-directed care initially came to life in nursing homes and has since expanded its reach to all care settings, including Assisted Living and Memory Care.

When Dr. Thomas was the Medical Director of a nursing home in upstate NY, he recognized that older people were dying from “plagues of the human spirit” – loneliness, helplessness and boredom.

Yes!  This was exactly what I had experienced when I was a C.N.A. as a young woman!  I took a  3 day workshop  to learn more about the Eden Alternative, and later I went on to become a Certified Eden Alternative Educator, and an advocate for an elder-directed, person-centered philosophy.

“An Elder-directed community commits to creating a Human Habitat where life revolves around close and continuing contact with people of all ages and abilities, as well as plants and animals. It is these relationships that provide the young and old alike with a pathway to a life worth living.  –  Dr. Bill Thomas from “10 principles of the Eden Alternative.”

I learned, and I now teach the antidotes to loneliness, helplessness, and boredom.  Below are three of the Eden Alternative Principles that reveal the antidote.

  • Loving companionship is the antidote to loneliness. Elders deserve easy access to human and animal companionship.
  • An Elder-directed community gives the opportunity for elders to give care as well as to receive care.  This is the antidote to helplessness.
  • An Elder-directed community imbues daily life with variety and spontaneity by creating an environment in which unexpected and unpredictable interactions and happenings can take place. This is the antidote to boredom.

Here you may read all of the  10 Principles of the Eden Alternative.

Since that day, many years ago –  when I reflect on how the respect and value of the caregivers reflects directly on the value and care of the elder – it resonates with me and validates that I am on the path that I was called to follow.

Caring is what makes us human. Now, that makes my heart sing!


Jean Garboden, Director of Education & Innovation at Compass Senior Living

About the author: Jean Garboden is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit healthcare organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living in Eugene, Oregon. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada

Finding Beauty in Brokenness – “Golden joinery”

“We are all broken.  That’s how the light gets in.”  Ernest Hemmingway

How did you feel the last time a coffee mug slipped from your hands and shattered on your kitchen floor? Probably some combination of surprise and annoyance. If it was an heirloom or a sentimental piece, you may have even felt supremely guilty as you swept up the shards.

In Japan, instead of tossing these pieces in the trash, some craftsmen practice the 500-year-old art of kintsugi, or “golden joinery,” which is a method of restoring a broken piece with a lacquer that is mixed with gold, silver, or platinum.

Reverance and restoration

The kintsugi method conveys a philosophy not of replacement, but of awe, reverence, and restoration. The gold-filled cracks of a once-broken item are a testament to its history.

We practice this philosophy when we see a broken object’s potential when we upcycle when we repurpose when we reincarnate an object that would otherwise likely be thrown away.  As Shimoda says, “It’s one beautiful way of living, that you fix your dish by yourself.”

Society’s greatest accomplishment – Longevity. What are we going to do about it?

One thing is certain for all of us, if we are lucky – we will age.  In a society that celebrates ‘anti-aging’ products and dialogue – elderhood is still considered a state of  ‘brokenness.’

At age 40 we may get an ‘over-the-hill’ party, and we begin talking about getting old as though it is a curse. If you think you are ‘old and broken’, you are right.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and many people using the stereotypical language are diminishing themselves and missing out on many more years of a life well lived.

If you were born in 1900, you had a pretty good chance of dying by your 50th birthday. Today, thanks to improved health and safety, a dramatic increase in average life expectancy during the 20th-century ranks is one of society’s greatest achievements,” notes a report from the National Institute on Aging.

Most scientists agree that there is, in fact, a limit on how long, physically, we can live: rising averages aside, no one has ever been documented as living beyond 122. Getting to about 110 is really approaching the limit of the human lifespan.

While birth rates are dropping, average life expectancy is still rising, as more and more people live past 80, 90, and even 100. The population of people demographers refer to as the “oldest old” is ballooning relative to other age groups — with no signs of slowing down.

Conscious Aging – Can we apply the concepts of kintsugi or “golden joinery?”

So, with an additional 30+ years of life, can we look at our lives more intentionally?  Can we optimize our life experiences, our ‘brokenness’, and take the opportunity to explore the kintsugi philosophy to recycle our experience to create a life of awe, reverence, and restoration? The gold-filled cracks in our lives can become a testament to our history.

You are never too young to begin preparing to be your best version of yourself into your elderhood.   Below are some tips to practice kintsugi, or “golden joinery,” to experience elderhood as the crescendo of your lifetime!  Begin now!

  1. Developing a willingness to deal with life completion and overcoming the desire to stay in denial of aging.
  2. Coming to terms with your mortality. Yes, we are all going to die.
  3. Acquiring the skills of ‘golden joinery’ to gain courage and strength from the gold-filled  ‘cracks’ and ‘brokenness’ of your life, realizing awe, reverence, and restoration.
  4. Beginning to do life repair:
    • in health
    • in practical matters with wills and testaments
    • in relationships and between generations
    • by reaching into the past and offering release and healing
    • through forgiveness work with release from vindictiveness
    • by finding the pearls in the anxious memories
  5. Doing the philosophical homework by raising questions about the purpose and the meaning of your life.
  6. Serving as elders to others as guides, mentors, and agents of healing and reconciliation on behalf of the planet, the nation, and the family by being wisdom keepers.
  7. Preparing for a serene death and afterlife.
  8. Doing all of this nobly in connectedness with the inner, actualized self,  already realized, individuated, and complete.

 To learn more, Sage-ing International is a community of elders and elders-to-be who are ready to explore new ways of aging.  Beginning as a networking organization for professionals, they have expanded their focus, reaching out to everyone approaching or in the second half of life. Their vision includes teaching/learning, service, and community as three vitally important aspects of the Sage-ing journey.

A beautiful Elder woman fully whole and perfect. A living example of ‘golden joinery’ or ‘kintsugi”

 


jean-garboden
Jean Garboden, Director of Education & Innovation at Compass Senior Living

About the author: Jean Garboden, Director of Education and Innovation,  is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit healthcare organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living in Eugene, Oregon. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada