Last week, an article appeared in a local newspaper about yours truly. It was about how and why I started doing the book - the Comprehensive Guide to Retirement Living - and the website www.senioropolis.com. I had done the interview a couple of months back and did not know it would be appearing in print (or what the journalist would actually write) until people started emailing me about it (a link to the article in now posted on our About Us page). What I found interesting was the number of contacts, people I know, who asked if it was 'true'. They wondered if my experience as a young adult, of a grandmother who had dementia and was admitted to a not-so-nice nursing home, was actually true and if it indeed had shaped my future in that profound a way.
So, for all of you who didn't ask but wondered the same thing, the answer is a resounding yes. My experience with my grandmother happened while I was a social work student learning and absorbing and trying to understand the right way to do things as a professional. Our family felt powerless, lacked information about how 'the system' worked and had no idea who to ask for help. Decisions were made without everyone who needed to be there present and information was not properly communicated. It was a different time - more than 25 years ago - and our system has changed significantly but from the calls we get, there are still instances where people feel all of the above.The social worker I became was significantly impacted by that family experience. It just so happened that I ended up as a hospital social worker a few years later. And that I ended up working mainly with seniors who couldn't return to living independently and needed help finding a new home. I came to understand that our family experience was not a unique one. And so, I decided that I needed to find a way to help people navigate a system that was a bit fragmented and difficult to negotiate under normal circumstances, never mind when stress levels are high.
I think our experiences shape who we become and certain experiences impact us more than others. While I never set out to become a hospital social worker who worked with seniors on a conscious level, I do believe that this experience very much pointed me in the direction that would become more of a mission than a career choice. My grandmother had been a significant influence on me growing up. And while I do have some nice childhood memories of her, my young adult memories are overwhelmingly populated by images of her frail body in a nursing home that simply did not provide adequate care or treat her with dignity. In those last years, she didn't know us and so the recognition that the person we knew was no longer there became the context through which I came to understand how difficult it was to deal with memory loss in someone you loved.
I don't think, when I started to do the book, I realized how many people I would actually help, how long I would continue to do it or how big it would become. It was simply something I needed to do at the time when I recognized a hole in our system. To this day, my greatest reward is receiving feedback from people The Guide has helped. I suppose empowering others to understand what our family didn't, has helped me turn something negative into something positive.