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

Disrupting Aging

Slow down….and listen. They said. Turn your cell phones on. They said. Share with the world what is happening. After 110 performances on Changing Aging’s Disrupt Aging live theater event, held recently in Eugene, Oregon, its hard to imagine this formula not working to get people’s attention. The message: its time we change how we think about aging.

Changing Aging attendance group 2JPG
Compass Senior Living crew attending the Changing Aging event (from left): Amira, Kory, Beth, Jean, Becca, Niki. (Catherine and Mary not pictured)

The day started with a small group lunch with Dr. Bill Thomas, geriatrician and founder of The Eden Alternative. The group of about 20 were all there for various reasons–from AARP representatives to an elder currently living in a senior community. Dr. Thomas has started what he calls #AskDrBill– an egalitarian way of answering everyone’s hardest questions about aging (for which he specifically asks).

I asked the hardest question I knew about aging: aging comes with loss, how do you ‘be okay’ with not being able to do everything that you used to be able to do? To which Dr. Bill gave his words of wisdom based on his experience, “Change comes with loss, not just aging. If you looked at your checkbook the same way, you’d only record the expenses but not the income. And, that’s not an accurate picture of what your finances look like. Pay attention to the ‘other side’ of the ledger book. We pay attention to the loss and not what is to be gained with the change.”

Gain with the change. The biggest ‘aha’ moment as he said this was not the metaphor of the ledger book–although that is a great metaphor for how one can look at what life throws at you–it was that aging is just change. And, we have lots of change in our lives. So, why is this change so different from the others? It needs flexibility, resiliency, thoughtfulness, and planning. Like any change that life throws our way. Its all between our ears in the way the change is framed.

Disrupt Dementia–The Momentia Movement. The afternoon transitioned into a “non-fiction theater” event as the Changing Aging crew calls it. The group performed two simultaneous tales of a Ugandan refugee and those living with dementia. The Ugandan refugee, Samite (pronounced SA-me-tay), performs the music that he composes as his journey inspires him and life’s challenges, and changes, come his way; as he rebuilds his life. Similarly, the stories told by the elders living with dementia, in their own words, tell the tale of changes that come to them, but how they are inspired to continue on their journey as life throws these particular changes into their own paths. It’s a heart-wrenching, but necessary, truth about how those living with dementia are doing just that–living— and it is up to us to help them adapt and keep living.

Disrupt Aging. As the evening progressed, a second performance blended myth and science; challenging us to re-frame aging. Dr. Bill asks “what if?” What if everything we knew about aging was wrong? Accompanied with music, storytelling, and, yes, audience participation games, we learned that there is no such thing as a “senior moment”. We all simply have a “filing cabinet” and, as we get older, the filing cabinet is more full–and more messy– and it just takes a little longer to find what we are looking for. What’s more, older brains have the power of gist. Older brains have the power to see patterns and pull from past experience to understand what is being explained and, well, you get the gist. Dr. Bill challenged us to stop perpetuating the myth of the senior moment. “Social change starts between the ears,” says Dr. Thomas. Just like racism and sexism, ageism persists when we tacitly agree to ageist comments and jokes by not saying anything. When we let it go, we imply that its okay to perpetuate myths on aging and see elders as declining. The Changing Aging tour is challenging us to perceive aging as a vivid and enlivening process that presents us with extraordinary risks, and rewards. 

We are all getting older and will be considered old, if we aren’t already. How will you approach this change?

 

Related posts and resources:

I have a 20-year old brain in an old body

Elderhood–what do we want to do with another 30 years?

Human connection–at the core of everything that matters in the world

My shrinking world

Featured image photo courtesy of Changingaging.org.


About the Author: Amira T. Fahoum is the Director of Marketing and Director of Operations, Northwest Region for Compass Senior Living located in Eugene, Oregon. Her path to senior living started when she simply decided to be open to possibilities in life. Possibilities are what led her to what is now a career in serving elders and families. Possibilities also led her into the world of becoming a Certified Eden Associate, Certified Validation Worker, Levels I and II, and a licensed Assisted Living Administrator in Oregon. On her journey with Compass, she has found true reward in working with, and for, the people that care for others. She lives in Eugene with her husband, Michael, where they enjoy golf, travel, and volunteering.

I have a 20-year old brain in an old body

What do people over 100 years old want you to know?

I think you will enjoy this 3-minute video below featuring  100-year-old Grandma Eileen who answers the question, “What do I ask old people?”   She answers candidly, and she may give you insight into your own future-self as you continue on your journey when you will someday enter into the wonderful developmental stage of elderhood!

“I have a 20-year-old brain in an old body.”  “My secret is that you make your own happiness, and you make the place better where you are”

This week I went to a celebration of life for 105-year-old Ina Hinds.  Ina and I visited every week at church.  She was interesting and fun. She wore beautiful hats.  Her lipstick and makeup immaculate, and she was dressed ‘to the nines’.   She was beautiful, and her vibrant spirit inspires us today.

In Las Vegas, where I live, Ina Hinds was locally famous and was frequently mentioned in local news stories for her participation in active exercise classes past her 100th birthday.

As a widow in 1992, (age 81),  Ina joined an active exercise class at the YMCA and continued regularly.

“Everybody in the class was at least 60,” said Esther Abele, more than 30 years younger than Hinds. “But Ina was always the oldest, and an inspiration to all of us. She was still coming when she was more than 100. When she got macular degeneration and could no longer drive, she got somebody to bring her. When she started having to use a cane, she hung the cane on a chair, and sat in the chair using hand weights.” Ina recruited much younger women to the class.

Ina hinds at 105 birthday party in Las Vegas Nevada
Ina Hinds at 105 birthday party in Las Vegas Nevada

There is a stereotype of old and very old people. They are often not seen as whole and capable with a collective life experience and a desire to make a difference in the world. Ina was a progressive woman. She was born before women could vote. She put herself and her children through college. She worked at the Pentagon, and she was active in many social causes.

Yet, at her memorial service, many people were surprised at her life accomplishments.  Why?  Because they did not ask her!

Ask the elders in your life what they are looking forward to.  You may be surprised.  Too often we think that elders primarily want to reflect on the past.  Ask about lessons learned from their past experiences that can help you or the world be better today. Those over 100 years old who I meet as I travel around the United States tell me that they live with joy one day at a time, looking forward with gratitude and in anticipation for each new day.

How well-known to you are the elders in your life?

  • Take the time to ask meaningful questions about their experience, their hopes and their dreams.
  • Record their stories in video or audio formats to keep for generations.
  • Create wisdom circles in your homes or in your community where elders and younger people gather to talk and share life experiences, advice, and laughter.

If you are not an elder now – you are an elder-in-waiting. Let us now look to our elders as role models, Showing us how to live with grace and joy into elderhood!


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

Human connection ~ at the core of everything that matters in the world

I  believe that trusting relationships are the most basic of human needs and the strongest foundation for caring for one another. Despite that belief, it’s easy to get caught up in a one-woman hamster wheel of working, consuming media, and just being busy with the many tasks on my to-do list.

I teach our care teams about the power of human connection through eye contact, touch, and conversation. I teach them that each person has a unique worth from birth through the end of life, as fully capable human beings.  I teach our leaders about the power of creating a culture of caring in a person-centered workplace in their responsibility to care for their care teams and families while becoming well-known to one another.    Yet, I acknowledge that I sometimes take human connection for granted; I forget its value and forget to nurture it.

This 15 minute Ted talk by Elizabeth Lesser “Say your truth, and seek them in others”  touched me, and I found new ways to strengthen authentic relationships in my life.    Lesser challenges us to “Be like a new kind of first responder… the one to take the first courageous step toward the other.”

Elizabeth Lesser starts her talk with the lessons she learned from being a midwife. “Everyone in this room is a former baby with a distinctive birthright,” she says, and we are all possessed of a “unique spark.

In this busy holiday season, I invite you to take 15 minutes to reflect on the relationships in your life.  Authentic, genuinely caring relationships are at the core of everything that matters in the world.  What greater gift can we give to another than the gift of ourselves?


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

What I have learned so far – Be ignited, or be gone.

What I Have Learned So Far:
by Mary Oliver

Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
looking into the shining world? Because, properly
attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.
Can one be passionate about the just, the
ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.

All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of
light is the crossroads of — indolence, or action.

Be ignited, or be gone.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Mary Oliver, age 81 inspires young and old with her poetry.

A private person by nature, and born in a small town in Ohio, Oliver published her first book of poetry in 1963 at the age of 28; No Voyage and Other Poems.  As a young woman Mary Oliver lived for several years at the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay in upper New York state. Over the course of her long and illustrious career, Oliver has received numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984.

As Mary Oliver has entered elderhood, she maintains her fiery passion  for life, and continues to write poetry that inspires all ages. Now at age 81, Oliver has published “Upstream”, a book of essays that provides deep insights and delightful anecdotes as she examines her role as a writer, reader and a spiritual seeker who constantly practices what she describes as the redemptive art of true effort.

As I work with young people and older people considering a career in eldercare,  many tell me how passionate they are about the opportunities to support the continued growth and purpose of  elders that we are honored to learn from and with.   The very nature of caring rituals: washing others, holding others, feeding others and dressing others – is intentional, intimate, and sacred work requiring a code of ethics, dignity, respect, empathy, intelligence and kindness.  The work of  supporting elders with these physical acts allows them  to focus on self-actualization and spiritual and emotional growth, so they may harvest their legacy and wisdom for future generations.

And I remember Mary Oliver’s words when talking to those who have chosen eldercare as a career.  Can one be passionate about the just, the ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.”    This is hard work, important work, human work – inspiring courageous efforts.

The work of upholding the ideals of a person-centered, elder-directed culture requires leaders and care team members  with the passion, the skills,  and the willingness to put their hearts and hands into the work.

Elderhood is about the gifts that age bestows; gifts unique to those who have lived long enough to have learned much of what life is all about, and remain curious about what’s yet to come.   All of us are elders, or elders-in-waiting! We are defining our own future elderhood.  Let us now passionately promote  and embrace a culture that encourages the wisdom of elders to guide us.   Let us ignite, or be gone.


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.

Elder Boom! A crisis or a blessing?

Senior friends standing in circle on the beach
“People getting older is not a crisis, it’s a blessing”  Ai-Jen Poo, author The Age of Dignity

At both poles of human life – caring for one another is what we do and that is part of our humanity.” Ira Brock Hospice care Physician

My mother cared for both of our grandparents in our home when I was a little girl.  I cared for my children as they were born, and  my husband when he had open heart surgery.  I cared for my mother when she was transitioning from this life to the next.

Two of my daughters work full time in caring types of jobs, they  have teenaged sons, and their mother-in laws are in their 90’s,  living independently, but needing assistance. Their lives are filled with caring for their teenagers,  tending to the needs of their mother-in-laws, and providing care to others in their work.  Their experience  is no different from millions of families in the United states.

  • There are 5 million Americans over age 85, which is our country’s fastest growing demographic. In 2035 that number will be 11.5 million.
  • Four (4) million of us will turn 65 this year.
  • One hundred years ago, 3% of the population was age 65 or older.   Today more than 14% are over 65, and by 2030 the number will be 20%.
  • We have more senior citizens in America today than we’ve had at any time in our history!

Despite these daunting numbers, Ai-Jen Poo, a thought leader and social activist, in her 2016 book, “Age of Dignity, preparing for the elder boom in a changing America, outlines a road map  for the opportunity  to   become a more caring Nation.

This is an opportunity to strengthen our intergenerational and caregiving relationships.

  • Care is something we do.
  • Care is  something we want.
  • Care is something we can improve.
  • But more than anything Care is the solution to the personal and economic challenges we face in this country.
  • Care doesn’t just heal or comfort people individually;  it really is going to save us all!

What seems like an immense challenge is actually an incredible opportunity to transform the three million direct care caregiving jobs to good sustainable jobs for the 21st century –  to jobs that each person takes pride in with joy in service.

  • It is also the opportunity to make sure that  our work and family care policies reflect the needs of families.
  • It is an opportunity to make sure that every one of our loved ones that took care of us actually have the choices they deserve – to live with dignity, giving each person the opportunity to  continue to teach us how to care.
  • We have the opportunity to  create solutions that uplift the future of us all.

This short video introduction to the concepts confirms that “Caring is what makes us human.”


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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.