Last week I joined over 300 senior care industry professionals at the Collaboration In Aging (Un)Conference in Denver and there is no doubt every person in the room truly is nice for a living. The opening keynote speaker, Stephanie Staples, really nailed the whole idea of not just saying but actually singing about what it takes to be in the senior care industry. You don't have to watch the entire 5 minutes but hope you'll at least listen for a verse or two because it does sum up what I think every person in the room truly is...nice for a living...
I happened to stumble upon this conference several months ago after seeing an ad about the event in an email from a senior care professionals networking group and decided to reach out to the conference co-founder wanting to get a better understanding of whether it would make sense for me to attend and potentially have a vendor table. I actually decided against being a vendor this year and honestly, it was the right decision. I really had more time to focus on truly connecting with so many people and not having to worry about being at the table at certain times.
Obviously, I am not a senior care professional by the true definition but I am someone who has not only in recent years felt a strong desire to help seniors downsize and transition to the next phase of life but also someone who has pretty much had a very deep and compassionate place in my heart for seniors my entire life.
I was lucky enough to have incredible grandparents who taught me how to respect my elders without having to ever say it.
And I would have done anything...I mean anything...for them.
Neither one ever had to transition to assisted living.
They both "aged in place" for the most part even though they had medical issues as they progressed through the years but could afford in-home health care when they needed it.
Most Americans, though, have to make the sometimes tough decision to go into some form of independent or assisted living and while I know there are many senior communities that really are safe, clean, and accommodating, none are really that affordable, and too many are still run as profit-centric and not people-centric.
Side note...the "F word" aka "facility" was banned from the conference. They gave out buttons to each attendee and if we were caught saying it we had to forfeit our button to the person who realized the "flub". My "flub" was caught by the woman below, someone I happen to know from one of the monthly senior care professionals networking meetings I try to attend. I guess I have a little word reframing work to do but it shouldn't be that hard for me because I use the word "community" at least 6 times a day. I am a huge believer in building community and that is exactly what senior living should be about. "Facility" really does have a somewhat negative connotation so I hope this small change will lead to even bigger ones for how we perceive senior living.
Being in a large convention center ballroom for two very full days with such caring, giving, kind, and understanding humans was truly my happy place. Nevermind I am now considered part of the demographic that would be eligible to move into any of the communities represented at the conference (turning 61 in November...OMG!), I am nowhere near being a passive participant in life during the inevitable ride down the proverbial hill. But I do think my faith in humanity was elevated by the energy that was so infectious as I listened to various keynote speakers, attended breakout sessions and mingled during meals with the attendees.
To say I have always loved conferences and trade shows is really an understatement.
I thrive at them...seriously.
I've worked for trade show and event management companies in past lives and always enjoyed the palpable "buzz" in the air.
But as an attendee, I will admit they can be a hit-or-miss experience.
Just like with senior care communities, if the conference managers are more profit than people-centric, I personally will not be able to enjoy myself.
I once "checked out" of a conference on day one after walking into 4 different breakout sessions in an hour because every single one was just so over the top "salesy" and ego-driven.
Those are not and never will be my people, my tribe. I don't care how much those previous show managers paid a keynote speaker or spent on "the experience", I can't do the Tammy Faye Baker mascara tears rolling down their face kind of rah rah/cheerleading thing.
It never feels genuine.
In fact, it just feels icky...to me.
If that is your jam, though, you be you.
Me, I'll be hanging out where I am respected more for my willingness to show up and do the hard work than how much I'm willing to spend to be in the presence of someone who has essentially created a pyramid scheme.
Anyway, from the opening general session on Wednesday morning until the last speaker on Thursday afternoon before I really did need to leave, I was engaged, present, and truly hyper-focused. I contributed to conversations and was actually acknowledged by several people who stopped me in between sessions or during lunch to tell me that they thought my comments were relevant and important to the discussions taking place. I wasn't there to get continuing education credits but I was there to learn and make some meaningful connections. I definitely learned a lot and I most certainly made some incredible connections. I brought home a stack of business cards but half of the names represented on those cards had already reached out via LinkedIN while still at the conference. And before you say, "Well, they are trying to get referrals from you so of course they are going to try to pounce as quickly as possible", that really was not the case. I can smell disingenuous miles away and none of them are that.
What was the most compelling thing I learned?
Everyone has the right to self-destruct aka die before nature takes its natural course...or at least as long as they don't harm anyone else in the process.
We need to stop trying to keep seniors, let alone anyone else alive who are done living and just want to die with dignity and grace.
The "heroic measures" need to stop.
Families need to accept that death is inevitable and must let their loved ones go.
And state laws surrounding end-of-life decisions need to be relaxed.
So what does any of this really have to do with being a home organizer and move management specialist?
Well, when you are hired by someone who is facing the downsizing process and the stress is so overwhelming or they are simply just done caring about anything and that it actually lands them in the hospital which often then leads to rehab and possibly assisted living or memory care my job becomes that much more difficult. I don't want them to waste whatever precious days, weeks, months, or even years they have left worrying about how many pieces of silverware they may need or which photos they will have room for to decorate their walls.
I want them to live...truly live before they die. Even if they are bedridden, why are we as a society so hell-bent on using machines to pump blood, provide oxygen, and facilitate nutrition if someone's quality of life will never improve?
Hearing Eric Rooney of Regeneration Earth retell the story about a 90-something-year-old woman who was fully prepared to end her life and expressed her desire repeatedly wasn't granted permission literally on her death bed by the doctor who had to sign off on the administration of the drugs that would almost immediately stop her heart because she couldn't tell him what day it was had me and everyone else in tears. She ended up dying 4 days later but why was she denied her desire to end her life in what truly is a very peaceful and dignified way?
Why did her family have to endure an emotional rollercoaster?
Why, why, why did it matter what day it was?
When I discuss this type of thing with my adult children I am very clear about my desire to live vs. die. Whether I'm 60, 70, 80, 90 or 100 plus, if I have quality of life...fine. But if I am terminally ill and a dragged-out painful death is all I have to look forward to, I want out. Push me over the top of a mountain, toss me over the side of a boat, or find a compassionate human like Eric to do the deed. I'm not kidding.
We recently had not one but two senior clients pass away within weeks of us doing the big cleanouts that were required of their homes and I honestly wish that instead of spending the time and money that they did having us help them they could have spent it on one last amazing adventure. While one of them was unfortunately terminally ill and wasn't even living in the house anymore, I still have to wonder if he should have been put through rehab in the final weeks. I actually never met him (we coordinated everything through a family member and the Realtor listing the house) but I was told he was at least made as comfortable as possible in the end with the help of Hospice. But if he had chosen assisted death as an option in his estate planning the chances are his wishes still wouldn't have been carried out because he probably wasn't considered "competent" enough to pass the "what day is it?" test. If you asked me right now what day it is, I probably couldn't tell you. They all blur together. When I wake up, I look at the calendar on my phone to see what I have to do that day and move forward with the tasks at hand, and not once throughout the day do I worry about whether it's Tuesday or Friday.
The other client who passed away?
Sadly, she probably died of a broken heart. Her husband pre-deceased her by 7 months and she spent the better part of this year overwhelmed with grief but also a tremendous amount of anxiety leading up to the transition to assisted living.
In retrospect, she probably should have just stayed in the house enjoying her beautiful garden and painting in her studio.
Was the house a burden?
Sure, but I think she felt pressured to move out by family and friends.
I don't think money was the real issue so selling the house would have just meant she'd have a big chunk of change in her bank account. It would have been enough to keep her in one of the best assisted living communities in the Greater Boulder area for at least 15 years. She was in her late 70s and had some health issues that she wasn't managing well but that was, again, her choice to self-destruct. If she really wanted to live a longer life, I am certain she would have made sure to take better care of herself. But her husband's death was the beginning of the end for her and whether it was a conscious or subconscious decision, we have to respect her right to let go the way she did at the time that she did.
Bottom line, I would like to think that we proved we were "nice for living" not just for those recently deceased clients but for all of our clients, especially for our senior ones. They deserve our compassion and, most importantly, our patience. I think being "nice for a living" needs to be celebrated and, more importantly, practiced each and every day so spreading the word across cyberspace certainly cannot hurt.
Be well...and remember, always be kind,
Chief of Chaos To Calm