Dad, I Love You

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Dad holding me. Rosanne & Mick on the porch.

Dad, I love you and do you know why?

Because of that special gleam in your eye,

Which tells me something significant and true:

That I’m an important part of you.

 

 

 

Mom & Dad

Mom and Dad 2014

 

I love you because I know there’s no other,

That you love more than the one I call mother.

I love you because you are always there,

Extending a hand to show that you care.

 

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My first filly, Ginger, a dream come true

 

 

I love you for all the things that you teach

Like nothing I want should be out of reach.

You’ve taught me to work and to save my money

For things that I want to make my life sunny.

 

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Dad riding Chili the mother of Ginger. I love the hard hat he always wore.

 

I love you because you are honest and strong;

You’re courageous and steady when things go wrong.

I love you because in your steps I can trod,

Because I know you’re clearly a man of God.

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2014, One of Dad’s many talents, leading music.

 

Dad, I love you and do you know why?

Because as a man you are never shy.

You’re friendly to everyone you meet,

And as a friend, you just can’t be beat.

 

 

 

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2008, Mark and Dad

I love you because your in-laws you truly love,

Making them fit in the family like a glove.

And with your grandkids you always have fun

With work or rain, but mainly snow and sun.

 

 

Dad & I Snowmobiling

1980, Dad and I

 

I love you for these and so many other reasons;

Thank you for all the joy—no matter the season.

For dancing, camping, horses and snowmobiles too,

Boats, 4 wheelers and swimming, just to name a few.

 

Dad, 2015

2013, Dad on his backhoe

 

 

I love you for being the perfect dad for me.

I value your opinion and your wisdom I see.

You listen while I hash out my crazy ideas,

Then you help me achieve them, I cannot tell fibs.

 

Dad and Mark

1980, Dad & Mark boating

I’m the luckiest gal ever, I know,

Because I have a dad that loves me so.

And I married a man a lot like my dad,

They’re the best of friends for which I’m so glad.

 

Dad, Mark & I

2009, Me with Mark and Dad

 

I love you both and do you know why?

Because as fathers you’re quite the guys.

And because on earth you’re what fathers should be,

I’m blessed to be yours through eternity.

 

 

Joy of DadHappy Father’s Day!

Links to my favorite story’s about Fathers:

My Home Delivery

A Blessed Life

My Two Favorite Men

Dad Creating Beauty After Tragedy, Part I & Part II by Katie Wilson Ferguson

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It’s Not About Me

It’s my pleasure to introduce you to my daughter’s father-in-law, Chuck Ferguson. Chuck was a caregiver to his wife, Susan, until she passed away from cancer in May of 2003. He cared for her in their home in Richfield, Utah. When she died, they had four grown children and five grandchildren.

Written by Chuck Ferguson

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Of course, I suppose it never is. When Susan was diagnosed with cancer, it seemed like the end of the world. It was a devastating blow.

Nurse Susan Ferguson, 1972

Susan Ferguson, 1972

It also was a reversal of roles. As a nurse, Susan had been a caregiver since before we were married. She had helped countless patients who were suffering through hard times with a gentle touch and a heart of gold. Now it was suddenly I who was cast into the role of caregiver. It didn’t come easily.

This past July 11th marked 45 years since Susan and I were married in the Oakland LDS Temple. Marriage to Susan was the best thing ever to happen to me. She was the best part of me, and her spirit still is.

It was just before our 29th anniversary that Susan was diagnosed with breast cancer. It came as a shock to our entire family. Susan had regular mammograms every year, always coming up negative. Nevertheless, she had a feeling that something was wrong and decided to have a biopsy. The results showed her at stage 3 breast cancer. Apparently, calcification had masked the cancerous growth.

Despite the bad news, we tried to maintain our normal routines while sandwiching in Susan’s treatments. We tried to keep a positive outlook, pinning our hopes on an experimental stem cell program that seemed promising.

Susan first received four regular courses of chemotherapy. The program then required Susan to be in the hospital for about a month, then another couple of weeks in offsite housing. Between the collecting of stem cells, and the procedure of intense “near death” chemotherapy followed by reintroducing the collected stem cells for recovery, the whole experience could be described as nothing less than torture. After all that, surely the cancer would be defeated.

And so for several months after the treatments we carried on a “normal” life. However, within myself there was a constant undefined feeling of uncertainty, near inner chaos. Looking back, I can see that it affected me in everything I did. I think I knew that, as much as I hoped otherwise, I had a certain sense of inevitable doom. And with it there was a selfish feeling of, “why me?”

Not long afterwards, Susan started having an ache in her hip that would not go away. X-rays showed a fractured hip caused by bone cancer. An oncologist made it clear that the cancer had spread and that Susan was terminal.

It took me a while to overcome the “poor me” syndrome. But finally I began to realize and internalize what became my mantra – “It’s not about me.” It was difficult to be in the ironic position of caregiver for the woman I considered the best caregiver I had ever known. Trying to live up to the standards that she had established as a caregiver were often frustrating. I was required to do many things for which I had very limited training. Fortunately I had the best possible teacher, Susan.

Ferguson Family, 2002

Ferguson Family, 2002

The next three-and-a-half years were the best years of our marriage as we made the most of the time we had left together. We traveled the world and enjoyed special times with our children and grandchildren. It wasn’t always easy for Susan. Sometimes she was sick, sometimes confined to a wheelchair, often tired, or in pain from the medications and treatments. I did my best to meet Susan’s needs, whatever they might be. Frustrations became challenges, and challenges became opportunities to serve the woman that I loved so dearly.

Being a caregiver for Susan demanded a lot—physically, mentally and emotionally. It demanded more than I ever imagined I could endure. But it was easier whenever I looked into my Susan’s eyes and reminded myself, “It’s not about me.”

Thank you Chuck for sharing your story and for reminding us that our challenges are opportunities to serve the people we love. I’m grateful for you and Susan and the four wonderful children you raised together, especially Eldin, who happens to be my favorite son-in-law. When Katie Mae and Eldin were engaged, I knew it was a good match. They both grew up with a parent giving care to another. I love your reminder that caregiving, marriage and life in general, is not just about me.

Chuck remarried the following year and lives with his wife, Suzie, and their daughter, Katie, in the Salt Lake Valley. I appreciate him sharing this heart-felt message with us!

The Book of Life

Life is like a book

The years come and go and each one leaves me a little older with a different perspective on life.  It’s a good time to reflect on where we’ve been, how far we’ve come and appreciate the people who have been by our side through it all.

Our 2014 chapter review:

We love and appreciate our home, which we have shared with Mom and Dad for eighteen years.  We enjoy helping each other and find comfort in having them close by. They will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary in 2015. We’re grateful for their example and all we have learned from them.

Our son, Christopher, moved to Vancouver, WA in September. He is still working as an Air Conditioning and Heating Technician and found employment there. He is enjoying his adventure in a new city and state. He lives in the same town as his Grandma Wilson, Aunt Karen and Uncle Mark. We miss him, but we are grateful he is living close to family and the opportunity they have to spend more time together. We only wish we could be in two states at one time.

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Dad, Mom, Chris, Katie, Eldin, Barbara & Mark

Our daughter, Katie, and her husband, Eldin, live in West Valley, UT. Eldin works for American Express and Katie just celebrated five years with her own business, Graphic Forte, where she’s a successful graphic designer. They are very busy with Eldin being a bishop for the past 3 ½ years. It is so rewarding to watch both Eldin and Katie grow in this calling.

Katie had her cancerous thyroid and several surrounding lymph nodes removed in March 2014. She recovered well and is cancer free now. She looks great and is feeling better, which we are so grateful for.

Mark has spent his weekdays working at Ability Choice Services doing assembling work, but that contract will end this month. I’m still working as an account manager for Earthwork Property Management and appreciate the opportunity they allow for me to have a home office.

I started UnitingCaregivers.com in October 2013 and will have posted 190 articles by the end of this month. It’s time consuming, but rewarding and has far exceeded my expectations. Thoughts of what I’m going to write about are constantly dancing around in my head. I am also a part of two writing groups, American Night Writers Association and League of Utah Writers. I enjoy my association with these two groups and they’re part of the inspiration that keeps me writing.

138Another hobby is gardening. We had a great vegetable garden this year with lots of squash, corn, cantaloupe, tomatoes, peppers, onion, cucumbers and broccoli. Unfortunately, the brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower didn’t do well. We also have twelve grapevines, lots of raspberry and blackberry bushes, along with two strawberry beds. Mark was a great help with canning lots of salsa, vegetable soup and grape jam. We also expanded the orchard to twelve fruit trees this year, but the trees are not producing enough fruit to bottle yet. Having one acre gives us a lot of work, but we enjoy being outdoors so it’s great.

Mark and I with Mark Fox, the award presenter.

Mark and I with Mark Fox, the award presenter.

Mark received the Survivor Award this year at the Annual Brain Injury Alliance of Utah Family and Professional Conference. It’s been twenty-three years since the car accident. He’s not only survives, but thrives and we are so proud of his perseverance, positive attitude and endurance. Mark’s mother flew in from Washington and was there for the ceremony along with my parents, siblings, Katie and Eldin. It was a day we will always remember, which extended into a wonderful weekend as Mark’s sister, Karen, and brother-in-law, Mark, flew in later that night to spend a few days with us in celebration. We loved spending time with them and enjoyed taking them to Sundance and Park City.

Mark's family celebration

Katie, Eldin, Barbara, Mark, Mark Ray, Karen & Mom W.  We’re missing Chris, Jerrie & Jon.

 

Our days have been full with work, gardening, exercise, plays, concerts and writing. No time for trips this year, but we are looking forward to going to Idaho and Washington next year to visit family.

With December coming to a screeching halt I look forward to a new chapter of happy and exciting times, but realize some sad and difficult times will be sprinkled in the mix. I’m anxious to turn the page and see what I’ll have to write about in the next chapter.

I hope 2015 brings you good health and much happiness.

A Magical Adventure

In 1991, Mark literally slept in a coma through Mother’s Day, Memorial Day and Father’s Day. Not to mention my birthday and our twelve year wedding anniversary. Although he was awake for Independence Day, Labor Day, Halloween, his birthday and Thanksgiving, all those holidays were spent in the hospital for rehabilitation. We were overjoyed Mark would finally be home for Christmas. Last year I wrote what it took to get Mark home for the holidays. It’s one of my hardest, yet happiest Christmas memories so I wanted to share it again with a new twist.

Christmas MagicChristmas can be a magical time, when wishes are granted and this definitely was the case for us twenty-three years ago. After eight lengthy months of hospitalization, I was finally able to bring Mark home —  just in time for Christmas. He was far from better and still needed extensive therapy and care, so I worked on establishing a “day- patient” schedule where he’d be there all day for therapy and I’d be able to care for him every night at home. At the time he wasn’t able to feed himself or take care of any personal needs. Mark’s doctor, Joseph Vickroy, and the rehab team of speech, occupational and physical therapist, requested that we spend several nights in an apartment-like room located in the center unit where Mark had been for six months. They felt it was important for me to understand the responsibility of caring for Mark before they released him.

I thought the request was trivial since I had spent every day with him and fed him most meals anyway; however, I understood their concern and agreed to do it. I spent several nights there and took complete responsibility for him. Our two children also spent a few nights there to understand what life would be like to have Dad at home. We passed the test and Mark was discharged from the hospital.

Once we realized Mark was going to be wheelchair dependent, we knew some home modifications would be necessary. In October 1991, we started building a large room which would become our bedroom with a wheelchair accessible bathroom off the back of the house. Fortunately, my dad and brothers work in construction and they were willing to do the job. My oldest brother, Mick, designed the addition with a ramp for the new back entrance. If you’re blessed to have a father who is an excavating contractor, “you can’t add a room without a basement.”

Top: Left - Don breaking ground. Right - Steve, Mick, Dad preparing for footings. Middle: Left- Dad. Right - Steve and Mick pouring the footings. Bottom: Left - Steve and Dad. Right - Mick, Steve and Dad pouring the cement floor.

Top:        Left – Don breaking ground.          Right – Steve, Mick, Dad preparing for footings.
Middle:  Left – Dad trying to escape.            Right – Steve and Mick pouring footings.
Bottom: Left – Steve and Dad.                        Right – Mick, Steve and Dad laying cement floor.

Because they were building this addition on their own time after work, it was not completed in December. Despite the unfinished construction we wanted Mark home for Christmas. Mark’s care was physically difficult until the new bedroom and bathroom were finished, but well-worth all the effort to have him finally home. Our regular bedroom wasn’t big enough for all the equipment now needed for Mark. Our queen-sized bed had to be replaced with a single-sized hospital bed. At night, after I transferred him into bed, I would raise it as high as it could go and place my air mattress on the floor in the only space available — which meant my legs were tucked under the bed. Worried that Mark might forget I was there and use the controls to lower it, I would unplug the bed every night.

This sleeping arrangement made for nightly jokes. I often said as I unplugged the bed, “You are now out of control.” He teasingly replied, “But, I’ve got the top.”

Our living quarters were cramped and hard with the construction going on, but it was so worthwhile. My heart is filled with gratitude for my dad and brothers who made our home a place where Mark could live. Our trials were lightened by their skills and hard work. They opened up possibilities for our new circumstances.

Top: Left Don knocking out the brick wall into the new addition Bottom: Left - Chris, Katie, Dad and Mick nailing the top floor down. Right - Chris and Katie painting our the new room.

Top: Left and Right – Don knocking out the brick wall into the new addition.
Bottom: Left – Chris, Katie, Dad and Mick nailing the top floor down.                                       Bottom: Right – Chris and Katie painting our the new room.

Chris Chipping, a friend and former employer of Mark’s, did the electrical wiring for our new addition while another friend, Walt Fisher, did the plumbing. It was a crazy busy home with construction going on for five months until the addition was completed. But, after eight months of living in a hospital — it truly was the merriest of Christmas’s to have Mark finally home.

In 1991 our world was turned upside down, but I learned “a magical adventure awaits those who venture forth.” The magic comes from the love of God, family and friends with a lot of hard work sprinkled in.

Finished room in March. Christopher, Mark and Katie.

Finished room in March 1992. Christopher, Mark and Katie. Mark in our new queen-size adjustable bed.

Working with Ricky

Over a year ago, Life with Ricky was written by Judy Coon and published on Uniting Caregivers. At that time, her friend and co-worker shared with me a story he wrote for a school assignment in August 2010. With his permission I share parts of his story with you. 

Written by, Tim Gray

Ricky Cromar

Ricky Cromar

At 1:00 p.m. Monday, Ricky Cromar picked up his worn, green Coleman cooler and heads for lunch. By the time he arrives, 25 or so warehouse workers have packed the break room. To reach his final destination, Ricky had to walk down a long narrow hallway past the conference room and call center, bend around two corners, a couple of restrooms and a flight of stairs. Along the way he had to open two closed doors and limp through one that was already opened.

Ricky can’t count the 150-yard trek or compare it to the miles he often walked alone as a kid. But now as a 61-year-old man with Down syndrome, Autism, and Alzheimer’s, it’s quite a trip. Especially when one leg is a few inches shorter than the other and you’re going blind.

“Here you go buddy,” Janelle says, as she places Ricky’s oversized red University of Utah jacket around his shivering shoulders and rocking body. Ricky doesn’t say a word as he flashes an exaggerated grin of gratitude at the twenty-three-year-old shipping supervisor. She’s accustomed to making her way around the 125,000 square foot warehouse and doesn’t mind the 300-yard round trip back to get his jacket.

For those that come in contact with Ricky, it’s a reminder to be thankful for the ability to do the things he struggles with daily. For many, his accomplishments are an inspiration. For Ricky, who often displays pride in the things he does, the walk just gets him where he’s going. Today, like most days, Ricky eats quietly alone. When he needs assistance, or an extra snack, there are plenty of helping hands. But the ones he depends on most are attached to Judy Coon, his sister and primary caregiver for the past 15 years. Judy is the bookkeeper for Pro Star Fulfillment, a shipping and handling firm for infomercials. She shares a 480-square-foot rectangular office with Ricky and he sits at a black metal desk next her.

While Ricky eats, Judy usually shares lunch with Layne, her husband, who is also the V.P. of Pro Star Fulfillment. They generally eat in his office, which is just around the corner from the break room. While they are both involved in Ricky’s care, Judy clearly has the lion’s share.

In a lineup of seven siblings, Ricky is the second oldest, Judy is third. She took the job as full-time caregiver about a year before their dad died in 1996 and eight years after their mom passed away. Growing up, Judy never thought much about Ricky’s condition. “He was my older brother and has just always been there,” she says. Judy would pay him to do her chores, including the dishes. She would then drive him to buy hamburgers, a major passion of his, which started their bond together. As an adult, Ricky still cleans up the kitchen all the time for Judy.

Before work Judy rides a bicycle 30 minutes, which is about the time it takes Ricky to choose a shirt from his closet. As he has developed Alzheimer’s, most things take longer and are often clouded with confusion. He is wearing gray jeans, rolled up the same six to eight inches his mother rolled them up for him as a child and as an adult. That’s Judy’s job now, along with helping Ricky perform other personal care activities most people take for granted, including electric shaving.

Before Alzheimer’s, Ricky was incredibly organized, especially how he placed pants in his drawers and how he hung shirts in his closets. They were all color coordinated. Now Ricky’s drawers are in chaos.

Earlier today, Judy and Ricky made lunch at home together. It’s something they do on days they don’t have to be at work early. “Rick, do you want one sandwich or two?” Judy asks. “Two,” he says, unaware he is flashing a peace sign. Judy gently hands him four pieces of bread she baked,  which Ricky carefully lays out on the oval wooden kitchen table. Sitting down, a careful exercise itself, he spreads peanut butter slowly on one piece, going well over the edges. Unhurried, he spreads Welch’s Grape Jelly on two pieces and puts the bread together, but not very straight. Judy lets him eat them however he makes them. Ricky deliberately places the sandwiches into a plastic container and then into “Box,” the nickname he gave his Coleman cooler. Next, he methodically puts a Yoplait chocolate raspberry yogurt into the cooler. Pop-tarts, one chocolate and one blueberry, are today’s dessert and a Minute Maid drink completes the meal.

At 1:49 p.m. Monday, most of the break room has cleared as the warehouse employees have returned to their work stations. As Ricky finishes the walk back to his office, he stands bent over his desk with a clouded look of concern. Ricky’s chair is missing. Jared borrowed it while he was gone, but Ricky finds it in good hands, sitting next to Judy. Ricky has an hour for lunch. He made it back before his time was up.

“Good lunch,” he mouths, with a wide-grin and raised eyebrows, like he just pulled a rabbit out of a hat. It’s an expression he displays often at Pro Star. Judy understands what he is struggling to say and smiles back.

Judy gives Ricky daily jobs at work, including stuffing DVD’s into small white containers that will ship to customers looking for long-term healthy weight loss. Ricky is also in charge of shredding files, one of his favorite assignments, but he spends much of his days coloring with the same steadfast concentration he displays making his lunch. Jared Starling, CEO of Pro Star, personally delivers a $15.00 check to Ricky every two weeks for his hard work and Ricky lights up.

Ricky takes tremendous pride in his work. Craig Faux, corporate sales manager for Pro Star , wrote, “When I have something going on that is causing me stress or an issue I need to think through for a minute, I go see Ricky.  He stops, but only for a moment, shakes my hand, shows me what he is working on, smiles at me, then says he needs to go back to work. I always feel better when I leave.”

On Tuesday I will share more from Tim Gray’s story.

 

Moving in a New Direction

Written by, Eric Reynolds

Eric ReynoldsI suppose my mid-life crises were different from what many experience. My career path had been that of a businessman and salesman. In 2009 I was wrapped up in a real estate brokerage and watching the real estate world collapse around me. I overheard my wife talking with one of her friends about her husband’s dissatisfaction with his job running a “day program” or “sheltered workshop” for people with disabilities. I had a vague idea of what he did for work and thought to myself, “He doesn’t know how good he has it. The State will always pay their bills and they will never run out of money.” I determined that I should check into his business and he agreed to let me spend three days at his program in South Salt Lake. I left each day with a big grin on my face! I determined I would start a similar business in Utah County.

Through a series of painful and truly incredible events, I ended up as the Executive Director of Ability and Choice Services, Inc., which is owned by Dan Fazzini, Ph.D. out of Tulsa, OK. The company serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities including people with brain injuries. We have three facilities in Utah located in South Salt Lake, Draper and Tooele.

In these facilities we offer a variety of work, educational and activity based opportunities for people with a variety of disabilities. In addition, our company offers supported living and supported employment services. These services help individuals who need one-on-one services to assist them in their home or work environments. Since taking the helm a few years ago, the company has grown rapidly. We now serve over 150 people in various capacities. We provide people with disabilities a safe, clean, and positive environment where they can continue to grow, socialize with others, participate in community events, and even make some money doing simple tasks. However, some national movements and trends are about to change our business quite dramatically.

“In 1999 a case went before the Supreme Court which resulted in a landmark decision for people with disabilities. The court concluded that Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act gives people with disabilities the right to receive services in the most integrated setting possible.” Olmstead v. L.C. 527 U.S.581, 607 (1999)

A subsequent lawsuit in Oregon (Lane v. Kitzhaber) argued that the State of Oregon was “unnecessarily segregating the named plaintiffs and members of the plaintiff class in sheltered workshops.” It further argued that individuals with disabilities working with other individuals with disabilities is a segregation and a violation of the ADA and that these individuals with disabilities must have substantial interaction with non-disabled peers outside of a workshop environment.

As an activity and work based day program running in a workshop environment, it is becoming increasingly clear that the rules are quickly changing our business. Under direction of the federal government, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Utah State Division of Services for People with Disabilities (DSPD) is developing a plan to help transition day programs, like ours, to better support individuals with disabilities in an integrated setting. This formal plan is to be released by the end of this year. The execution of this plan is to take up to four years. To get a jump start on this process, we have been interviewing the people we work with to better support them in their employment goals and objectives.

The contract/piece work we have performed in the past has been wonderful, but it is group work and is performed in a segregated environment. This group work in a segregated environment does not reflect the individual desires and interaction with non-disabled peers outside of our centers that the law is now requiring.  I expect this change to be fairly difficult.  A great deal of effort will be expended in promoting new activities in job sampling, job skills development and job placement.

“Customized Employment” in an integrated work setting with people who do not have disabilities is the goal. To find customized employment, we will consider a person’s interests, skill set, and the available opportunities that might work for them. We recognize, probably better than most, this proposition may seem like an impossible task for everyone we work with. I believe we will find successful employment for many individuals. However, we recognize that some individuals may not ever find successful employment in an integrated setting, but giving those people the opportunity to at least try can and should be considered successful. This success, I believe, will result in greater life fulfillment and happiness for those we serve.

What happens to day programs in the end? I’m not completely sure. My best guess is that they become employment training centers. This would be a place where a person with a disability, who is not currently employable, would go to learn new skills and abilities that will help make them more employable in the future. As DSPD introduces their plan in the next month or so, this will all become much clearer.

Working with people with disabilities can be challenging. However, I have found it is also super rewarding emotionally. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be a small part of the lives of those we serve. I’m grateful for those who day-in and day-out are watching over those we love. To those of you in this service, I say: Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for your gentleness. Thank you for your understanding patience. Thank you for being one of life’s true heroes. You are the difference!

Thank you, Eric, for your article. I also add my thanks the the staff at Ability and Choice Services. Mark enjoys their friendship. I appreciate the safe, clean and positive atmosphere there and see daily how hard the staff works to meet each individual’s needs. Since Mark enjoys going there for the work aspect and not the activities, we are disappointed the contract work is coming to an end. With Mark’s seizures and physical limitations, I feel Mark is better supported in a segregated environment where staff is trained to deal with his and those of each individual with special needs. Working is very important to Mark and gives him self-worth. It’s difficult for me to understand how the integrated setting will work and be capable of meeting the special needs of some individuals with disabilities, including Mark. It will be interesting to see how this program evolves. I hope Ability and Choice Services or DSPD will give us an update on the development of this program. I’m keeping a positive attitude about the change—remembering that when one door closes another one opens.

Hope to see you on Tuesday— we’ll have tips on Customized Employment.

A Blessing in Disguise

i_dream_of_jeannie-showThere is always plenty of work to do and the holiday season is no exception. Thanksgiving dinner was wonderful, but a lot of work. After hours of preparation, there’s the cleanup. What about Christmas? There’s more preparation for parties, dinners, decorations, shopping for gifts and all of this is done after employment hours. Sometimes I wonder why we do so much. Work Bewitched1can be stressful, strenuous and difficult. During those times I’ve dreamed of a genie (pun intended) granting my wish for less work and more play. In my youth, I also loved to watch the fantasy comedy sitcom, Bewitched. I’ve thought how awesome it would be to have the magical ability to accomplish anything with a twitch of my nose, clap of my hands, or a snap of my finger and thumb, eliminating all the hard work.

Have you ever thought of work as a blessing? Usually I think of it as the means to provide for the necessities of life. Without work, how do you pay for, prepare for, or participate in recreational activities and vacation time? Everything takes work, including the fun times.

I didn’t realize the worth of work until after our car accident, which made it impossible for Mark to continue in the electrical career he was schooled and trained in. He dedicated twelve years to the trade and was successful, reaching the highest level as a master electrician. After eighteen months of rehab, he was anxious to get back to work. Realizing he wouldn’t be able to work as an electrician while in a wheelchair, he asked every day what he should do with his life. He said he needed to be productive to have self-worth and wanted a purpose for life. Work provides purpose.

It was hard to imagine what he could do or that any other kind of work could bring him the fulfilment the electrical field did. I tried to convince him that rehab was his job. His focus should be regaining his physical and speech abilities so that he could go back to work as an electrician. Two years passed and he continued with his rehab, having eye surgery to fix his double vision and two surgeries on his feet to correct the foot drop, which made it difficult for him to stand. He continued to ask often when he could go back to work. I hadn’t realized before how important work is for making life worthwhile. Sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have or what we can do until it’s no longer available.

We volunteered at our children’s elementary school twice a week, reading with the kids or helping with math and spelling. Mark enjoyed the kids, but sometimes they couldn’t understand him because of his speech impairment. Children are so honest and they would ask him often what happened to him or why he couldn’t walk or talk. These comments were probably harder on me than they were on Mark. I wanted to protect him and our own two children, wondering what questions and comments they had to endure. I was worried they might become discouraged or uncomfortable with our circumstances so I thought it would be best if we volunteer elsewhere.

After checking into options with our church, Mark was able to do some volunteer work at the Bishop’s Storehouse posting food orders in the computer twice a week. He also went to my brother-in-law’s family music store to stamp their logo on their sheet music at Day Murray Music. He enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to go to these places and volunteering his time, but he wanted to financially contribute to our family needs.

The next year brought two more surgeries to fix Mark’s hip joints, which were filled with calcium, making it impossible for him to bend at 90 degrees. With his sight still set on getting back to work, I heard Mark often rehearsing electrical codes or terms so he wouldn’t forget them. He wanted me to pay the fee to keep his Master’s License current, but he was willing and wanting to do any kind of work until he got back on his feet. I had a hard time envisioning him finding any kind of employment because he was dependent on me for most tasks of daily living such as dressing, transferring in/out of the wheelchair and transportation, but wanting to support his goals, we pursued Vocational Rehab.

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Mark at work desk at Discover Card

The male crew in the mail room

He went through an intense week of testing. His I.Q. score was higher than normal, but his physical skills were low. The program helped place him in a part-time job at Discover Card. He did computer work recording P.I.N.’s (personal identification numbers) and enjoyed that job for eight years until they closed down the mail center. This was the appointed area for all the eight employees with special needs. They worked together with one supervisor who was trained to oversee and help each individual accomplish their job. Most of the special needs employees sorted the mail to the various departments and delivered them there. Mark worked on the computer, but because he needed help getting to and from the Paratransit bus to his desk, the restroom, lunchroom plus make sure he was stocked with the paperwork needed for his computer entries, his work desk was located in the mail room. He couldn’t do this job without the help of the supervisor. The group of special needs employees were devastated when they were replaced by equipment which sorted and delivered the mail to the various departments in 2004.

Discover Card mail room crew

2004 Discover Card mail room crew

What do we do now? I knew it would be hard to find a job where Mark would be safe and get the help he needed to accomplish work tasks. I also knew he wouldn’t be satisfied being at home every day without work. I learned the importance of work and realize its worth is so much more than the monetary value. Work brings happiness.

Work is a blessing in disguise. We may curse it and wish we had less of it to do. I no longer dreamed of a genie to lighten the work load, but rather one who could help us find work for Mark. I wished I could twitch my nose, clap my hands, or snap my finger and thumb and make a job appear.

On Tuesday I’ll share with you tips on how we found work for Mark.