Category Archives: kindness

Aye, Aye, Captain

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Aye, Aye, Captain

The key chain in the featured photo belongs to my client, Rob (not his real name), he is 94 years old. Gawd, I love a man with a sense of humor. I visit Rob and his wife Laura (Pssst, that’s not her name either) twice a week. Their pseudonyms come from the Dick Van Dyke Show, my blog, my rules. Our visits usually consist of errands and me refilling the numerous bird feeders that surround their home.

They keep the bird seed (several varieties) in the basement and I’ve been asked to check the mouse traps down there as well because apparently mice like bird seed. I don’t have any personal experience with mouse traps (thank you husband) but I don’t want my nonagenarian friends taking a chance on the wobbly wooden steps that lead to an unforgiving cement floor. So I glance toward the mousetraps and give a prayer of thanks each time I find them empty. Last week I accidentally set one off when my foot brushed against it. Fortunately it isn’t flip flop season. Once I’ve checked the traps, I fill four old coffee cans with three types of birdseed and then I make the rounds. My clients are happy, the birds are happy and the mice have stayed out of the traps thus far, everyone wins.

This week one of our errands involved taking my clients to the bank to close an account. Laura told me there wasn’t much in it, just a pesky out of the way account she wanted to close in order to consolidate funds. No problem, the branch is near the grocery store, easy peasy. When we get to the bank and my clients state that they want to close an account, they get ushered into a fishbowl of an office. I sit outside the office but I can peak in because, it’s a fishbowl. After a few minutes I go into the office to see what’s going on because I’m concerned that maybe the employee is trying to strong arm my friends into keeping their account, or worse.

I’m not comfortable being in this situation. I’m at a bank with two elderly people that I’m not related to and they want to close an account and walk out the door with significant funds. It turned out that my clients had four certificates of deposit in this institution with maturity dates that went to 2021. At first the employee was extolling the benefits of keeping the CDs in until they reached maturity at which point my clients will be knocking on 100 years old. I gave her the FFS are you kidding me look which likely made me look like a potential criminal….then I asked my clients to think about what they want to do. I followed up with, if you close the account we must deposit the funds into your primary bank today. We left with a check for over $30K. which was thankfully deposited into their other bank before I left them for the day.

This incident created an emotional collage for me. These are new clients, I’ve only worked for them for a month and here I was in this financially sensitive situation with them. My first instinct was to protect them from the bank, I just wanted to make sure that their money was safe. I got a long slow look at how vulnerable they actually are and it made me sad. Later that afternoon I sent an email to their adult children to keep them informed, they are the lucky ones. How many elderly people have to navigate this stuff alone, without a trustworthy relative or helper?

 

 

 

 

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Big Love

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Big Love

The next week or so will get nuts with holidays and travel so I probably won’t get a chance to post until 2019. I just wanted to take a minute to say thank you. I have such a deep appreciation for this community of strangers who have turned into friends I just haven’t met in person yet (I did get to meet a few at EBWW). I marvel at the variety of flags I see on my stats page, some days it’s like Epcot in here. To quote an incredibly overused phrase, I feel #Blessed.

Anyway, we are living in some weird times right now. The world seems more insane than usual and the pace of technological advances is staggering. Artificial intelligence, where’s that going to be in twenty years, thinking about that one thing can warp you. Some of my followers write and others are consistent readers. I see you and I appreciate you. Thank you for taking time from your busy lives to visit my blog and comment. If you celebrate Christmas, I hope it’s the best one yet.

I wish each and every one a new year that is filled with good health, surrounded by people you love with a belly sore from laughing.

XO,

Bryce

 

Ride on

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Ride on

Today I spent a few hours driving a 94 year old man to do some errands. Sadly, he can no longer drive himself though his mind is still sharp, the body protests. I met Rob a couple of weeks ago. It was an interesting introduction, one of his daughters called me to ask about my services. I have a small business that fills in the gaps for people when life gets complicated. The daughter lives at least 1,000 miles away and was coming in to visit her parents. We talked a bit on the phone and within half an hour of ending our call her father called me (independently) to schedule a meeting. I let the daughter know and we decided that Rob would take the lead.

I always offer a free consultation for new clients. I like to meet the client I will be working with directly and any family members or caregivers that are involved with decision making. Sometimes my clients direct their own finances and decisions, other times a family member takes the lead. I take notes and observe, I try to read the situation without being overly intrusive.

I met with Rob his wife Laura and their daughter about a week ago. The daughter warned me that Laura is resistant to outside help, she told the last employee that she hated her. This resentment of caregivers is more common than you might think. It’s hard to live your entire adult life as an independent person and then have some stranger try to tell you what to do. I strive to find ways to empower my clients and ask them to steer the ship as much as possible. Laura was upset that the last helper was only available after 11am so I asked if she preferred a 9am or 10am start, she perked up. Everyone wants to be heard and validated, sometimes it’s a simple fix.

Today was my first time working for this family and I was tasked with running some errands with Rob. Rob is delightful, he has a smile like Dick Van Dyke and a kind soul. Our first stop was at a Quaker School that he co-founded in the 80’s. This school was created to offer an inclusive educational environment for children that have learning issues. When we came through the door, Rob was greeted with genuine affection and adoration. As we were walking to the front office Rob told me how he always wanted to skateboard down the halls which, he noted, have some peaks and valleys that could make the ride interesting.

Then I got to hear stories about some alumni and the positive impact my new friend had on their lives. It was overwhelming and I felt fortunate to be in his presence. Of course we were there to drop off a fruitcake because everyone over 90 is required by law to make no less than 27 fruitcakes each December. It was presented in a practical yet festive way. The treat was on a square holder (I suspect cardboard) which was covered in aluminum foil. The wreath shaped fruitcake was placed in a extra large Ziploc bag and attached to the base with festive red ribbon and holly. It was quite attractive and if I attempted such a presentation it would be a complete disaster.

Our next stop was at a feed store. I didn’t know feed stores existed until I moved to this somewhat rural area 15 years ago. We were there for two kinds of birdseed something with corn and black sunflower seeds. I have no working knowledge of birds or their seeds, I suspect I will become somewhat familiar, at least at filling the feeders. Once I filled the car with seed, we were on our way, this time to the post office.

The post office was in an old house that was converted from a general store. This building is on a minimum of it’s third life. It offered two ways to get to the door – traditional steps or a ramp. Rob decided to chance the stairs. I get nervous with new clients that have mobility issues using stairs fortunately, we made it without incident. We were there to check their post office box and to mail some…guess…yup, fruitcakes. After about 10 minutes we were on hour way back home.

In between errands Rob and I chatted in the car. He told me that he was only in the Navy for a year during World War II. He was discharged due to medical reasons, he had melanoma. For those unfamiliar, melanoma is the most lethal of skin cancers, he was 19 when he was diagnosed and treated. At 94, he has certainly exceeded longevity expectations. Rob mentioned that he is now the lone survivor from his high school class. I commented that it must be lonely to outlive most of your peers. He gave me a snort with a “you bet”.

When we got back home, his wife of nearly 70 years was preparing to host a book club which, is heavy into discussion and light on actual books. There was some interesting jockeying of cars in the short driveway that borders a busy road. I needed to drop off 50 pounds of bird seed, park their car and move my own vehicle. While we were parked in the driveway working out logistics, a friend offered to walk Rob to the door. I could tell he was uncomfortable with the offer and yet he smiled and made his way up the walkway with his friend. I suspect this family will find it’s way into my heart in no time.

 

 

That’s My Business…

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That’s My Business…

I recently met with client who used the word “f*ck” as a noun, a verb and an adjective. She switched tenses with the finesse of a linguistic ninja, it was spectacular. The fact that this person is an ordained minister is the icing on the cake. I love my job.

I started a small business in 2014. I fill in the gaps for people when life gets complicated. My usual clients are elderly and they need a little TLC. I check in on them while their adult children work. I share a meal, do some light housekeeping and socialize. I am the eyes and ears for loved ones when they can’t be there.

I’ve visited clients in their own home and at nursing homes. I used to visit a 97 year old man who was in a nursing home. Twice a week I would take him out for lunch at Chick-fil-A and each time he acted like it was the best meal of his life. Every week he would hold up his drink with the wonderment of a young child at Christmas.

“What is this?” Jack would ask

“Sprite” I’d reply

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever had” Jack would say that every week.

It’s incredibly rewarding to be the best part of someone’s day, even if they don’t always remember the details. My lunch date never could get my name straight but he always leapt out of the day room chair when he saw me. He walked across the room with a happy stride and a wide smile planted on his face.

One time around the holidays, I told my nonagenarian (great Scrabble word) friend that he looked festive, things got jumbled a bit. But I liked his version better than mine so we went with that.

“You look festive Jack!” I exclaimed

“Did you say I look sexy?”

“I sure did.”

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Sketch by Lisa McMillen – http://www.cicalisadesigns.com/

It isn’t always so fun and carefree. There are often medical concerns lurking in the background, potential embarrassing moments and the sad realization that this friendship likely won’t last that long.

I used to visit Edith, she was 88 and had severe dementia. One day I came in for my usual lunch visit and she wasn’t wearing pants. How do you handle that you ask? I said “Edith, you didn’t tell me it was no pants Monday” and I promptly got her dressed.

I have a client now who has dementia and a feisty sense of humor.  Last week we were walking in the hallway (“airing out” as we call it) when I had a brilliant, awful idea. The residents put a lot of thought into the decor around their front doors. Wreaths, plaques, photos and other seasonal tchotchkes line the narrow shelves that flank the apartment doors. I suggested that we switch a few of the wreaths around and then watch to see what the residents would do. She thought it was the best idea ever. Of course we didn’t do it, we only dream of being that rotten, but it made her laugh.

I always look for ways to add humor and preserve a person’s dignity. If someone doesn’t want to be checked on I’ll tell them I’m there to walk the dog or do laundry, we a find a way to make it work. My goal is to make them feel like a friend is stopping by to visit because inevitably that’s what it feels like.

I meet most of my clients through a friend or family member. My business is based exclusively on referrals. I tend to have one or two clients at a time because I can serve them better that way. The family dynamics vary with each client but they all love their family member and are so grateful to find reliable help. They each hold a special place in my heart and I am honored to be entrusted with their care.

 

Writing Prompts

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Writing Prompts

When you feel vulnerable everything is a writing prompt. Sometimes the thoughts just swirl in my head, marinating until they become a somewhat tasty morsel that spills onto the screen. Not enough for a meal but, with any luck it leaves you hungry for more. Most times though, those prompts just wither on the mental vine. Here are some seeds that are lying on the bare ground, waiting for neglect or nurture to determine their fate.

Backstage Pass

My father is in the hospital again. He’s been in several times this year for various illnesses. We aren’t close and that’s not likely to change. He was out of my life from when I was 9 until sometime in my 30s. Too late for strangers with nothing in common to cling to – I say that with sadness, not hostility. We’ve both made attempts to bridge the enormous obvious gap, we just haven’t found the right the platform.

I find out about his health via group texts from his longtime partner. She’s devoted to him and very kind, which is comforting. It’s just awkward. The man had 7 kids from two marriages. I’m the first born but last in the pecking order. When I do get informed, it’s like having a backstage pass for an act you don’t know.

What’s Normal?

My kids recently went back to school and I feel myself being consumed by my own anxiety for them. I’m outing myself in the hopes that it will get me to ease up a bit. I have two teenagers and I can’t help myself, I think of what I was doing at their ages. Then I wonder, is it normal for parents to do this? If you’re a parent do you reflect on what you were doing when you were the same age as your child? Seriously, this is not a rhetorical question, I don’t know what’s normal.

For the Ladies

You ever get your period and think “Oh that makes sense” as you flashback to the night before when you ate half a chocolate cake and contemplated life with a new identity.

Hospice

A friend asked me how I deal with the mental mind f*ck of caring for people on hospice. This is what I wrote to him:

Hospice is a weird thing. I think what draws me in is the lack of bullsh*t. The small stuff and pettiness that most humans get tangled in tends to fade away when someone has a newfound awareness of how finite our time is here. I appreciate that level awareness and honesty and I get into a – do the next right thing modus operandi. It’s more difficult with people you know versus volunteering for strangers. I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing though, one of the benefits of a dysfunctional upbringing.

There is also a curiosity that pulls me in. I kind of want to know what it’s like at the end of life – I mean, we’re all going to die one day, yet people rarely discuss it. Or maybe my twisted brain thinks…if I am a witness and a helper for so many at the end of their lives, perhaps I’ll be granted a swift departure when my time comes. I don’t want to be subjected to weeks or months of Depends and really dry, chapped lips. So basically what I’m saying is….there is no way to delay the existential head f*ck, you just have to lean into that motherf*cker.

 

 

 

*Featured image used via agreement with 123rf.com image is Copyright of Sila Tiptanatoranin

 

I Hope the World is Kind to You

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I Hope the World is Kind to You

Yesterday I took my daughter to the dentist for a cleaning. I’m the type of person who gets into deep conversations with perfect strangers, it’s a gift. Probably an echo from my childhood which involved lots of moves. I had to be outgoing and cut to the chase when making new friends, that trait hasn’t left me.

There were two additional women in the waiting room and we started chatting. The topic was kids, inspired because one of the ladies had an 18 month old fast asleep in her lap. Turns out that was her youngest, her oldest just started college (…in Georgia about 2 hours away from his Grandmother in case you’re wondering. I was glad he was within a reasonable drive to family).

About ten minutes later the woman had to get x-rays. I could see her try to work out what to do with her sleeping toddler so I offered to hold him. The mom reluctantly agreed, I could see the wheels spinning in her brain, weighing the risks. She’s been a patient of the dental practice for 19 years (she had to have wisdom teeth pulled when she was pregnant with her oldest…what can I say, people just tell me stuff) so I think she felt confident that the staff would stop me if I turned out to be a weirdo who snatches kids from waiting rooms. Precious little man barely registered the move.

As I held him I felt my body go into that familiar bouncy sway that consumed my days and nights when my children were little. It becomes an involuntary action, barely registering after a few beats. As I held him, I thought to myself, I hope the world is kind to you little man. Then I had to choke back tears because, this baby was brown and I know that he will struggle is ways I can not fully comprehend.

 

 

Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_stockbroker’>stockbroker / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Erma Bound…I’m Bringing Oreos

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Erma Bound…I’m Bringing Oreos

One more sleep until my friend Little Miss Wordy (insert shameless plug: https://littlemisswordy.com/ ) and I make the trek to Dayton, Ohio. It’s an estimated 9 hour drive which sounds awful but Leah and I haven’t seen each other much the past two weeks so we will chat the time away. I’m the newbie on this road trip and I’m pretty excited about it.

This is only my second time traveling for a writing workshop. My first was Writer’s Digest last summer in NYC. That was great but I already know this one will be better. It’s smaller which is a plus and the genre is more specialized. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know much about Erma when I signed up for this event. I’ve been catching up, reading her long ago columns and getting glimpses into her life. I think we would’ve gotten along just fine.

Here’s what I’m packing:

  1. Hope. Hope that I have indeed found my tribe. That I will be surrounded by people that “get” me. A home where my quirky sense of humor is appreciated or at least accepted.
  2. Willingness. Willingness to be open to new ideas and listen attentively to people and concepts that I may not encounter on a daily basis.
  3. Friendship. The spirit of friendship and good will. I hope to bring this with me when I return home.
  4. Kindness. To everyone I encounter on this journey.
  5. The other essentials – clothes, toothpaste, toothbrush, lap top, chargers, 4 pairs of shoes, and a variety of black sweat pants that all look the same to the untrained eye.
  6. Oreos. To sweeten some introductions and to promote my book which has some mention of Oreos sprinkled throughout. Anyone have connections at Nabisco?
  7. My book draft!

 

Here’s what I’m leaving behind:

  1. Ethel. Ethel is the self-doubting prairie dog that lives in my head. She’s awful and sneaky, she pops up from time to time.
  2. Expectation. Keeping this to a minimum.
  3. Impatience. I have gobs of this at home hoping I don’t need it on this trip.

 

To all the friends I haven’t met yet, I look forward to meeting you in person. I’ll be the one with the Oreos probably wearing a hat and perhaps a cape.

Red Sweater Likes to Prank

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Red Sweater Likes to Prank

I know we’re all crazy busy with the holidays. A quick, cute story from my day at the office. Bear in mind, my office is an Assisted Living Facility where my job is to bring joy to my clients. I’m a cynic by nature so some days I have to dig deep. Today was easy.

I took Helen to a Christmas Carol sing-along in the activities room. Sometimes it takes a while (a solid hour or more) to get my friend ready. Today she was dressed when I arrived. I think I heard distant trumpets blaring and the sound of angels singing at this good fortune. We were soon on our way downstairs.

We found a spot and got seated. A nice lady was playing the organ and the residents were singing along to carols. We followed along with the program which, thankfully had lyrics printed for all 33 carols. There was a tenor about four seats to my right who had an impressive set of lungs. Across the room someone was dressed as Santa. It was obviously a female Santa based on the boots and the range of her voice. I love it when people go all in to make things special. She was definitely all in.

After the singing there was cake. One thing I really enjoy about seniors is their love of sugar. Any occasion is an excuse for dessert. After cake, Helen and I stood and I hustled to make a clear path for her. A gentleman sitting to our left took a dramatic pause to put his right foot out in Helen’s path in a faux effort to trip her.

Helen gave him some side eye to which he replied “what, I didn’t feel a thing”. Upon closer inspection, I realized our red sweater friend had a prosthetic leg and a good sense of humor.IMG_3373.JPG

My Clients, A (Brief) Love Story

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My Clients, A (Brief) Love Story

I don’t mean to brag but my job is better than yours. I started a business a few years ago to fill in the gaps for families. I run errands, let the dog out, greet kids at the bus stop, take people to appointments; a variety of services for people that need help. Sometimes it’s a one time deal, other jobs are long term. As the business has grown, it has taken a definite turn toward the more mature client. Most of my steady clients have been in their 80’s and 90’s, their families hire me to check in on them with a social visit.

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I have always been fond of the elderly, even as a child. My cousins would pair off during holiday gatherings and I would visit with Nana and Pop-pop. I loved their stories and their inability to filter themselves. Even as a kid, I found it refreshing to be around people that simply spoke their mind without fear of reprimand. This fondness has followed me my entire life.

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I currently visit a couple twice a week. Ralph and Helen have been married for over 60 years and they still kiss each other goodbye and say “I love you” when one is going out without the other. These are usually outings to a social activity within the assisted living facility where they reside. Ralph is a frequent participant in Wii Bowling and Helen likes to beat me at tabletop shuffleboard.

The featured image for this post is the face of the card that they gave me the other day. Here’s what Helen wrote inside:

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I adore these people.

Why Hospice?

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Why Hospice?

I get this question a lot, why hospice? Why volunteer to insert yourself into the lives of strangers when they are going through a gut-wrenching experience. The answer is simple, because I can. I realize it isn’t for everyone so those that can, should. You couldn’t pay me enough to work with little kids or Hedge Fund Managers. For some reason, I can lean into this end of life situation.

I should probably back up and explain a little bit about what hospice is for the uninitiated. Hospice is palliative care. Comfort measures for someone who is terminally ill. This includes pain medication, durable medical equipment, oxygen, things that will provide pain relief for the patient. Hospice is not curative care. When a person gets transferred to hospice they generally have a life expectancy of six months or less. Hospice care can take place in an institution or at home. It is covered by Medicare.

When I was in my late twenties my Aunt was dying and she made me the executrix of her estate. She didn’t have much so that sounds a lot loftier then the actual task. Basically, I was in charge of making sure her final wishes were realized and distributing what monies and valuables remained after she died. She selected me for the task because she knew I could handle it and her sister would be too emotional. Through that process I got to know my Aunt better and got a glimpse into what it’s like to know you’re time is limited.

My Aunt was a chaplain. I couldn’t of asked for a better teacher to demonstrate grace through her final months. We had very direct conversations about what she wanted, I could ask her anything. I remember a particular conversation when I asked specific medical questions. I was frustrated that more wasn’t being done medically to cure her. She was young, 59, and she had an acceptance that was mind boggling. She got breast cancer in her 40’s and had a mastectomy, chemo, the works. I remember celebrating her 5th year cancer free declaring herself cured. A decade later she had leg pain while on a trip to Greece. When she got it checked out she learned that the cancer had metastasized. The younger and healthier a person is, the more aggressive the cancer. She understood clearly that this was her death sentence.

It was an intense time. At one point she broke both of her legs while bathing. We hadn’t finalized her Last Will and Testament yet so I raced to the hospital to have her sign it before she went in for surgery. That was an odd position to be in. It felt awful to put “business” as a priority before surgery and yet I wanted to fulfill her wishes if she didn’t survive. Remarkably, she made it through the surgery and got to celebrate one last Christmas.

Through this process I became aware that sometimes the person that is dying doesn’t have anyone to talk to. Sure there are usually family members and friends around but sometimes they need a buffer friend. Someone they can talk to with no skin the game. Someone who won’t break down because they can’t bare the thought of their loved one dying. A friend at the end who will listen without judgement or a history of emotions that can complicate a conversation. I sincerely wanted to be that person.

I was 29 when my Aunt died and the seed for hospice work was firmly planted. I knew that I wanted to get involved at some point. The next decade was divided between a busy career, starting a family, moving and health scares. Finally when my youngest was in Preschool, I signed up to train to become a Hospice Volunteer. That was 10 years ago.

In 10 years I have probably visited with 100 or so hospice patients and their families. Each case varies with some overlapping commonalities. The hospice team is consistent regardless of the individual workers. Hospice nurses and home health aids are a special breed.  They are on the front line of death every day and they face it with a humility and strength that amazes me.

As a volunteer, I get to select the cases that I am willing to take on, the paid help doesn’t have that luxury. Sometimes I get to fulfill that wish of being their confidante. Most of the time though, I just sit by reading a book at their bedside while they rest. This is also rewarding as it provides respite for their caregiver. Caregivers are stretched so thin, anything you can do to help them should be done without hesitation. I’ve met people that have cared for their spouse for a decade or longer prior to getting on hospice. That’s an incredible length of time to sacrifice yourself for someone else.

Sometimes you get a hard case, something that hits close to home and guts you. I had a patient about a year and a half ago that still haunts me. We were the same age, her birthday was one week before mine and she had a kid the same age as my son. I visited her for a couple of months. Once a week I would stop by, make her tea and give her a pedicure. We talked about everything and anything. If she asked me a question, I gave her an honest answer and she did the same. What can I say, it’s just not fair. Despite the pain, it’s rewarding work which is why I still do it.

Do you have questions about hospice? If you do, feel free to comment and I’ll respond. If it’s too personal, you can email me at – thebrycewarden@gmail.com – if you do email me, please comment that you did so I get back to you in a timely manner. If you currently have a loved one on hospice, my thoughts are with you. I hope you can have the conversations of your heart while your loved one is still here. That is the gift of hospice, the ability to realize that time is running out, so say those words while you can.