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Compassion versus avoidance

Having a father with advanced Alzheimer’s and a legally blind mother with hearing problems has taught me a lot about how people deal with other people. So has traveling around to various senior communities and learning how they live. I’ve seen some incredibly kind and patient people. I’ve also seen some people that seemed to be born without the gene that gives you the ability to deal with aging with compassion.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-senior-caregiver-grumpy-image25828586

Dreamstime

Yesterday I saw both.

The day started in a doctor’s office. I walked in with a simple request: can you have the doctor fill out this drug company form so I can get my parents financial relief? (For those of you familiar with the “donut hole,” we’ve hit it square in the middle with dad and can no longer afford his medicine because insurance has run out).

Before I could say more than three words, this woman actually put up a hand in front of her face to say, “quit speaking.” At this point, I thought, “uh oh, she’s sitting behind the main desk but telling me to shut up before I even begin trying to explain this situation.” I took a breath, squelched my patience and zippered my lip. When she finally glanced up, I began a short explanation, which was basically this: I did all the research and have written a cover letter to the doctor explaining exactly what we need, which is to have the doctor sign this form in two places I’ve marked and write out a prescription.

“And who are you?” she said with raised eyebrows. “Uh oh,” I thought again. “I’ve been in this office multiple times with dad and mom and she doesn’t even recognize that I belong here?”

I gave the patient’s name and shoved the file at her.

Instead of looking at it, she said: “You need to bring it to the doctor’s office on your next visit. Otherwise, we charge you $25.”

I tried to explain the next appointment was too far into the future to do us any good.

She took two seconds to glance at the first page of paperwork and pronounced: “You’re being unrealistic. You need to call the drug company. This will be denied if you had any insurance at all. They don’t care about the donut hole.”

This made me gasp. I knew the claim might be denied, but to even get to the point of appealing to the drug company required I apply for and be denied extra help from the government itself (my parents were just a few dollars short of qualifying). I had done just that and hours of research to see that my dad might get help. This front office worker was telling me I was being unrealistic without even looking through the forms or cover letter explanation.

We went back and forth for a few more minutes, but I could see there was no way she was even going to give it any consideration or get the form to the doctor to decide. I walked out seething.

Maybe she knew what she was talking about, but her lack of compassion astounded me. We are a family in crisis and she couldn’t spend two minutes listening to me. It was too easy to just dismiss me as unrealistic and get on with her duties.

However, as cruel as I believe this woman was, I saw the other side of this coin that very same day.

Mom and I were meeting with different seniors communities to try to book speaking engagements. We’ve found it’s better to just walk in and ask for the activity director and if she or he is not available, leave a packet of information.

One woman in particular simply wowed us. Mom had been impressed with her on the phone because she’d been enthusiastic about the fact mom was writing at her advanced age. But the director was also realistic in pointing out that “my residents don’t know who you are so I’m not sure you’d sell any books. I don’t want to waste your time.” But we promised to give her a sample knowing that most people who read Twist or Wretched are thoroughly entertained. Once we arrived, she not only remembered mom’s call, she took the time to sit down and go through our packet and, after discussing what we’ve done with other communities, come up with an idea for a program there on the spot. That was impressive in itself, but it was the woman’s attitude toward her own residents that was the real wow. Her eyes sparkled with enthusiasm as she talked about how we could make this work to get more people out of their apartments and into the community area. Her colorful bracelets jangled as she waved at residents passing by. She smiled and called each one my name, before returning her attention to our “meeting.”

We could clearly see this was a woman who understood the needs of the people under her care. And she was a woman who was not about to dismiss us at the door because we didn’t make an appointment. She had us so pumped up and proud of ourselves for what we do by the time we walked out of there, it made our day and made up for the rudeness of the office worker.

Both women deal with the elderly every day. The office woman works for a neurologist who has many Alzheimers and dementia patients. The community director deals with their issues and concerns every single day, all day long. The difference between the two, however, was attitude. That office worker chose to stick to “procedure” to get her out of having to deal with yet another demand being made upon her. But the director looks at what she does not as a burden, but a blessing. She knows there are many simple ways to help seniors that require no time at all. And the first of those ways is to simply listen.

–Genilee Swope Parente

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Life of the not-so-rich, pretty poor

wheel

Dreamstime

My household is full of excitement this week as both my husband and I are perched on the edge of fame. Okay, okay, maybe not fame. But we’re both floating above our usual clouds of obscurity just a tad.

My husband is set to go this morning to a second round of tryouts for the Great Mobile Wheel of Fortune. I know that “Great” is not really part of the name of the big bus that travels around the country overseeing hordes of excited fans trying to get on the most-popular-game-show-ever, but it should be. This show has been on the air for 35 years, the longest-running syndicated television competition ever, and there’s a good reason. Even my 88-year-old Daddy, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, still shouts out answers occasionally—and he’s usually right. He can’t remember what he did five minutes ago, but he loves this game. It’s an American icon, the nighttime ritual of millions—one half hour of excitement that ties a hugely broad diversity of people together, even if that tying occurs in front of the boob tube.  And it isn’t exactly easy to get on. This is my dear hubby’s third time of trying to get past that initial two-day mass tryout. He’s proud and excited to be called back for a second round, and if you want to be part of this household’s brush with fame, you’ll get on his facebook page and wish him luck. (that’s Raymond Parente, Dumfries, VA, folks!)

Then there’s me, and my amazing 86-year-old mom of course. We are appearing three times the last week in February on Conversations with Rich, a local (Channel 10, Fairfax [VA] Public Access Station). Rich is well known in the Washington, D.C. area for hosting different types of talks shows, including two of his most popular, which feature restaurants and cooking. Mom and I won’t be talking about cooking (I’m hearing great sighs of relief out there!); we’re talking about our successful two books—Twist of Fate and Wretched Fate. But we have already spent two luncheons discussing at length what colors we might wear that would de-emphasize the reason we’re on in the first place: we’re old (Amazing, yes, but old).

Which brings me to point three of this blog: true “fame,” or at least glory. Mom and I had a second visit at the Emeritus assisted living community in Manassas this week. The residents there read our first book, Twist of Fate, during the month of January, and agreed to give us their comments, then purchase Wretched Fate if they liked the first book. By the end of 45 minutes of discussion, mom and I had to try to stuff our inflated heads back into hats. Lynn Hess, the dynamic life enrichment director of this facility, said she feared she’d be mobbed if she made residents stick with the original plan: to read (then discuss) only a certain number of pages per week during the month. There is no greater compliment to a writer than “I couldn’t put it down.” Lynn truly has a great bunch of intelligent readers in that community and their comments were invaluable, full of insight, and right on the mark. Needless to say, we’ll be returning to hear about Wretched at the end of February. To mom and I, who know we’re probably too advanced in years to build up an audience that can provide the riches, their enthusiasm was our reward for the hard work that goes into our books.

We’ll have to rely on my handsome, charming and talented husband, to win the big money prize!

Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Doing Old Age the Right Way

??????????This week Genilee and I had a book signing at an assistant living facility—the Emeritus in Manassas, Virginia.  It was quite an eye-opening experience that really showed the difference a good activity director can make in the lives of the elderly residents.  When we got there, everything was already set up for us―table, chairs and about a dozen members ready for us.

??????????For the current signing, we gave our usual background speech about how we got started and a little about the book itself. We were delighted that, with that little bit of background and some enthusiasm from attendees, the director purchased a book for each member and proceeded to set up a book review event. The group decided to divide the reading of the 300-plus pages of Twist of Fate into four sections of 75 pages each—a session for each of four weeks going forward.  On the fourth week, Genilee and I are invited to come back and hear the group’s critique of our work and their opinion of the book in general – good or bad!  Then they may purchase our second book, Wretched Fate, and do the same with that book.

It was a wonderful plan not only for their club but also for Genilee and me.  We need people who have read our books to tell us not only what they like, but where the plot/character/sequences of events might falter so we can strengthen our books going forward.

The experience also was just an uplifting day for two authors who love to hear from readers, and we hope we inspired this particular group of readers as much as they inspired us. One of the reasons we believe there has been so much enthusiasm for us as speakers is that it’s good for older people to hear that life doesn’t have to stop because of advanced years or the reality that they can’t do the things they used to. Old age can be a time of pursuing a dream or a different ??????????hobby; and I firmly believe everyone needs hobbies.  The one thing none of us needs is to sit in front of the boob tube, living someone else’s life.

I’ve always had hobbies – and they changed as I grew older yet became just as important as the ones before them. For thirty years, I wrote a recipe column for our hometown weekly newspaper as I was raising my family.  After the kids were in school, I went back and took a few education classes and then served as a substitute teacher.  When I found the 75-mile trip to school got in the way of completing my education degree, I took a course in accounting and then found a job ??????????doing books, which I enjoyed.  From there, I went into knitting, oil painting, ceramic painting and then genealogy. Each venture lasted about three years – until I could no longer think of anyone to gift with my handiwork. After I retired, I perfected my Bridge game and taught that game to over 150 men and women. I have continued my bridge playing and tried to go back to knitting and ceramic painting, but my macular degeneration means my eyes are too bad for ??????????any close-up detail work. Yet, despite that sad fact, I could see well enough that I decided if I was ever going to write books―a desire I’ve always had―I had better get started. I was 82 by this time (I’m 86 now).

The lesson to other seniors is that, though I don’t do anything perfectly, I have kept the creative juices flowing, which I believe keeps the blood flowing and the mind active.  I may not be gifted enough to win awards for any of my ventures, including writing. Our books are not literary masterpieces. They are meant to entertain and to keep people reading. But what an inspiration it is to bring enjoyment to others! And hopefully, through visits like the one to Emeritus, Genilee and I are also spreading the word that life doesn’t have to stop at 80 … or even 90.

??????????

 –F. Sharon Swope

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The computer ate my homework

Ironically, I am writing this for the second time. A few minutes ago, I lost my thoughts to this new computer system, which seems to be a regular occurrence with me these days. I really thought masharkybe I had conquered this computer, but it keeps letting me know who is in charge. At 85, I don’t seem to take to change too well, and I don’t really like being beaten by the computer. But I’m learning it’s part of today’s world. And it all sort of fits with the blog column I wrote because I was addressing the great changes in the world people my age have seen. Life at 85 can be a constant adventure.

For example, today my husband and I decided to venture out to find the local Dairy Queen.  If the two of us weren’t old and didn’t live in such a traffic-mess-of-a-city, I wouldn’t label this effort “adventure.” However, since my husband can no longer remember where he is going, and I am blind and can’t read road signs … you get the picture. We usually only go where I can give him instructions these days—go right at that corner, turn left here, keep on going straight.  But I’m afraid the places I am certain of in this area, which we’ve been residents of, for only half this decade, are few and far between. Also, I spent 74 years letting my husband drive while I basically daydreamed and didn’t pay attention; thus, we are now usually limited on where we can go. That’s why these outings are “adventures.”

Surprisingly, though, we had no trouble—we made only one wrong turn. However, the adventure this time occurred after we arrived. There we were standing in line to order a meal, and neither of us could read the menu on the board.  Bob insisted I tell him what he wanted to eat (something that happens a lot these days), and neither of us could understand the clerk who had a strong foreign accent.  We felt like idiots holding up the people waiting behind us.  Finally, we got that ordeal over, and I returned to our seat to wait while Bob got the order.

Suddenly, I felt like it was lunch hour for school and a lot of kids were skipping class.  The restaurant filled with a dozen young boys – all high school students, all almost six feet in height and none of them weighing more than 130 pounds! I never saw so many thin boys in my life.  They all looked like their pants were about to fall off.

Three high school girls came in next wearing short shorts on their also-slim bodies. They looked cute and quite nice but the fact they could go to school looking like that shocked me.  Now readers, I’m not so old I can remember when it was sinful for a girl to show her ankles, but I am of the generation when girls did not wear long pants in public.  Back in my youth teenage girls wore skirts (poodle skirts if you were cool) or dresses with sweaters and saddle shoes (which were, no matter what, NOT supposed to be clean).  When my daughters were teens, they wore short skirts or short dresses.  My own “modern” mother assured me those skirt lengths were all right, but to this day, I am not convinced. The short shorts those girls in the Dairy Queen were wearing were actually a lot better cover than the miniskirts of the late 1960s, early 1970s.

I know I sound old fashioned, but I don’t really think of myself that way. However, so much has changed in the last forty to fifty years.  In fact, so much has changed in the last ten!  I have enough trouble with my cell phone and have to go to my granddaughter for help with that.  And then you add the many new programs on the computer, the pop up ads I can barely see that the Internet produces, and you can understand how much I’m facing.

I do try hard, but days like today convince me that, despite the dictation program I use and the read-back program that helps, I am fighting a mighty hard battle. I am much more adept at losing copy than producing it.  Is there anyone else out there who feels the same?

Sharon Swope

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The excitement of being picked

Sometimes the little thrills balance out even the biggest challenges, which in writing include long hours of creation following by painful periods of waiting for your books to come out.

Mom and I recently had the pleasure of showing our book at a community fair at Potomac Woods apartments, Woodbridge, VA. We were returning to the Woods after a successful book signing, and like the first event, residents were enthusiastic about buying our book.

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Sally Okuly (middle) and the authors

But the nicest surprise came not from sales, but from two other factors: first, there were a number of residents who stopped by to comment on the book because they’d already read it. But the second surprise was even better: Mom and I donated a copy as a door prize drawing. Those fair participants whose names were drawn had a table full of goodies to choose from as prizes. When it came time for lucky Sally Okuly to pick, she walked up to the table and, ignoring the baskets of bath goodies, bags of cosmetics, warm fuzzy blankets, terrific gift certificates and other goods from the generous fair vendors, picked up Twist of Fate, a big smile on her face. She had already stopped by our display table with infectious enthusiasm about what we’d accomplished by writing a mystery/romance. But to have her select our book as her prize was an honor we won’t soon forget.

It shows us we’ve reached one of our main goals—to pass along to people who are readers the pleasure that mom and I (avid readers ourselves) get out of jumping into a good plot. Enough people have told us how much they enjoyed losing themselves for a few hours in Twist of Fate that we know we’ve attained that goal.

good smiling

Thursday Thrillers

Which brings me to this week’s event. Mom and I were featured speakers at the Potomac Community Library’s Thursday Thriller’s club. And let us just say: the thrill was all ours. There were about 20 avid mystery readers in attendance, and they provided us fresh perspective on our work. Nothing is more rewarding to the writer than to hear that your readers 1) did not figure out who the villain was, and 2) loved your characters, which made it a pleasure to read.

We’ll write more about that experience in our next blog, but to my writing friends reading this week, let me leave you with advice: get book clubs to read your material.  What they have to say around a table can be an eye-opening experience. And being invited to tell an audience how you became a writer is a heady experience.

Our thanks to Potomac Woods management, who put on a terrific event for their residents, and to Barbara and the members of Thursday Thrillers.

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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