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

What are old people for?

“What are old people for?”

In 2004, a physician named Dr. Bill Thomas asked that question in a best selling book “What are old people for? How Elders will save the world”   Dr. Thomas and his merry band of age disrupters were recently in the Pacific Northwest promoting their Disrupt Aging event.  The stop in Eugene, Oregon was their 110th show.

I am convinced!  Elders will save the world!

It was a  first-of-its-kind event! This immersive and transformational non-fiction theater wove film, music and first-person stories with groundbreaking research. We were challenged to re-frame aging. Dr. Bill asks “What if?” What if everything we knew about aging was wrong?

We invited 88-year-old Mary, who lives at Shorewood Senior Living in Florence Oregon to come to the event that began with a lunch with Dr. Thomas sponsored by AARP. The lunch group was small, giving us quality time with Dr. Thomas asking questions and sharing our passion for being part of a movement to disrupt aging in America.  Mary had learned about Dr. Thomas a few years ago when her husband read about how forward thinking Dr. Thomas was as a world renowned Geriatrician. She was thrilled to meet him in person, as her husband had passed away just 8 months ago at the age of 92.  As Dr. Thomas put his arms around Mary she told him,  “My husband is here looking down on us right now.”  Mary and her husband had embraced a vibrant elderhood together.

We asked Mary to share her experience with us.  She was thrilled to spend this time with Dr. Thomas, and he was honored that she blessed him with her presence!

Mary and Dr T

Mary meets Dr. Thomas.

“When I  was asked if I would be interested in attending a program called Changing Aging by Dr. Bill Thomas in Eugene, Oregon on May 5th, I had heard about the doctor and his specialty in geriatrics. Dr. Thomas was on his “Changing Aging” tour across America.

My first thought was to turn down the offer to attend because it would require sitting in a car for almost an hour to reach Eugene, Oregon and being an elderly woman in my 88th year, the thought of my stiffening body getting out of a car after an hour was not particularly appealing for the start of a long day in town.

My curiosity overcame my thoughts of wondering if I could tolerate the long day ahead knowing that we wouldn’t get back to Florence until almost ten at night.

I am happy to say that the day was a wonderful experience reinforcing what thoughts I had about my aging process. Thinking about all the clichés one could think of, Dr. Thomas fulfilled all of them—“ hit the nail on the head” and others.

He did it with lovely entertainment—stories and wonderful music along with fabulous electronics, the latter, no doubt, standard equipment of this era to the younger generation. As I got into the car to return home, I realized that I wasn’t as tired as I expected to be, I hadn’t thought much about my frailties. I had done something different this day. I had started to do what Dr. Thomas’ program was all about. I was disrupting aging!”

Dr. Thomas is taking his tour to the East Coast in June.  Check out his schedule.

It is truly an amazing social experiment and we were honored to be a part of it!  See the short video below.


jean-garbodenAbout 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.

Elderhood – What do we want to do with an extra 30 years?

“There’s a long life ahead of you, and it’s going to be beautiful, as long as you keep loving and hugging each other.” ~ Yoko Ono

Between 1900 and 2000, average life expectancy increased by nearly 30 years in the United States and most other developed countries of the world. For the first time in history, most people now being born can expect to live seven, eight, nine, or more decades. This changes not only the trajectory of individual lives but also the shape of societies: Adults 60 and older are now the fastest-growing segment of our population.

This increase in longevity gives rise to new important questions:

  • What do we want to do with an extra 30 years?
  • How should we, as individuals and as a society, shape the direction and purpose of our longer lives?
  • Can we design a path to our future that improves the well-being and opportunities of people at all ages?
  • Should we be creating new social and business policies that will foster these opportunities?
  • How do we prepare young people for longer lives—and can these questions be answered in ways that would be beneficial for all generations?
  • How do those of us in Senior Housing reimagine a  purposeful lifestyle for generous and compassionate elders who choose to live in our communities?

Unfortunately, rather than awakening a sense of celebration or innovation, the news of our longer life spans is generating fear and apprehension among individuals and concern among policymakers.

The questions posed most frequently are not the ones mentioned above, but rather these:

  • Can we afford all these old people?
  • Will they bankrupt our society or ransom the future of our children and grandchildren?

We have added 30 years to our lives, not just for the lucky few but for the majority of people in the developed world. The truth is that we have created a new stage of life but have not yet envisioned its purpose, meaning,  and opportunities.

What does this new stage of life mean?

  • Psychologists Erik and Joan Erikson viewed later life as a time when the impulse to give back to society becomes an urgent need.
  • Carl Jung, an early psychologist with interest in the challenges of the second half of life, saw older age as a fertile period of spiritual growth and individuation.
  • Betty Friedan, a social psychologist, researched aging late in her life and suggested that there is a “fountain of age,” a period of renewal, growth, and experimentation based on a new freedom.

Dr. Bill Thomas, a geriatrician, is at the forefront of a strong nationwide movement to reframe life after adulthood, which is Elderhood, as an exciting stage of human growth and development. In his book Second Wind, he explores the dreams and disappointments, the struggles and triumphs of a generation of 78 million people who once said they would never grow old and never trust anyone over thirty.

Having created a new stage of life, Elderhood; the next step is to make these extra 30 years meaningful!  For some of us it may be:

  • Choosing a healthy lifestyle so that the extra 30 years of life can be vibrant.
  • Volunteering or working in jobs to make the world a better place; creating a legacy through service, mentoring and activism to benefit future generations.
  • Embracing new paradigms for aging to realize our potential. Reinventing our life, and doing something we have always dreamed about but never had the opportunity to do
  • Assuming the Elder teaching role as the conduit to connect the generations to restore the broken connections in our culture. Even the frailest elder has something to teach us, if we, as students, recognize the elder wisdom as an opportunity to actualize their purpose and legacy.

For those of us who work in the senior living industry, the typical “bible, bingo, and birthday party activity program” is not the answer. Erik and Joan Erikson viewed later life as a time when the impulse to give back to society becomes a URGENT NEED!

The truth is, we don’t yet know what Elderhood,  this new stage of life,  can be, but the first step is to change the lens through which we view aging and challenge our stereotypical assumptions.

No matter what our age or frailty or ability, we are always fully capable human beings.   Until our last breath, we are evolving, and are in a period of renewal, growth, and experimentation.     See Dr. Bill Thomas in this short video introducing his TedX talk, Elderhood Rising – the dawn of a new world age


11062337_10206528118188840_645394201235573404_nAbout 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