December 2013 BBH Homefront Newsletter
|Staff share memories of longtime residents Michael Dunn and Arnold Gutierrez. Physical therapy aide Erik Borgesen (left) and occupational therapist Angela Brock hold Michael’s photo, and social worker Kathryn Swingle and recreation therapist Gretchen Gerhardt hold Arnold’s.|
The healing power of community at end of life
Every year near the first of November, Bailey-Boushay House holds a memorial service to honor those who have died here. Two of the names added to the memorial roll this year are Arnold Gutierrez and Michael Dunn.
Both were longtime residents. Both were extremely frail — Arnold from AIDS-related dementia and pulmonary hypertension, Michael from Huntington’s disease and both passed, gently and with dignity on the same weekend last April.
The deeper symmetry in their stories is how fully Arnold and Michael lived while receiving end-of-life care.
“They used the exact same words about being here,” says recreational therapist Gretchen Gerhardt. “They both said: ‘I’m so happy now. I love it here.’”
From punches to hugs
Neither man came here happy. Each felt isolated, ignored, misunderstood and fearful.
Their illnesses required high levels of specialized care that traditional nursing homes hadn’t been able to give them. Michael had even been ejected from one nursing home in handcuffs, after striking out in frustration at a staff member.
“Michael was combative at first,” recalls his physical therapy aide, Erik Borgesen. “Once we started understanding his needs, and he began trusting us, he became so grateful.”
Chrissy Parker, Michael’s social worker, saw the same transformation from desperation to gratitude. “He was able to really trust our staff and knew that we would take care of him,” she says.
From stigma to song
Arnold also changed as he settled into Bailey-Boushay’s safe and accepting community. In his early days, “he did not have his later ebullience,” recalls volunteer Pat Graves.
Arnold didn’t talk about being gay, says his social worker, Kathryn Swingle, and he was uneasy being around gay people. Then about three years ago, she says, “Arnold had an epiphany: ‘I’m gay!’ He came out to his family here. And he was suddenly more free about himself and comfortable with gay culture.”
If he hadn’t come to Bailey-Boushay, Arnold later told Pat, he would never have met these amazing people.
The music man and the excellent hugger
Arnold became the official greeter (self-appointed), and music was his medium; his photographic memory retained lyrics for hundreds of songs. Parked in his wheelchair beside the 2nd floor elevator, he belted out his beloved Elvis and Madonna tunes.
“Getting the chance to sing was Arnold’s joy,” says his nurse, Jim McAvoy.
Arnold told everyone he was going to Hollywood to meet Christina Aguilera on “The Voice” TV show. “It was wonderful,” says social worker Kathryn Swingle. “The staff went with it, which is so important with dementia. ‘I know you’ll win,’ we told him. And someone helped him write to the fan club of Christina A — he was so proud of it.”
Michael’s voice, too, rang out in the halls. Whenever he recognized someone passing by his room, he’d shout: “Hey, come on in here and give me a hug!”
The joyous gift of friendship
One of the happiest parts of their story is that Michael and Arnold became great friends. Even in the last part of life, they opened up to — and were enriched by — new connections.
Being severely disabled and totally dependent on others brought them to the same nursing home. What made them friends was their determination to go like gangbusters every day they had left.
Living with purpose and humor
Arnold lived at Bailey-Boushay for almost four years. Michael was here for nearly three. With the help of staff and volunteers, they each found ways to do almost everything they wanted to do — and to do it with joy and humor.
Both took great comfort, for example, in their Catholic religion. Michael prayed every day. He and Arnold both attended mass as well as Sunday worship service at Bailey-Boushay.
They were deeply serious, but rarely solemn. So staff love remembering that every time Michael slid out of his chair onto the protective floor mats or under the bed, he would say, “I’m praying.” They still chuckle at the memory of Arnold impersonating Elvis during mass with Father Jack.
Bingo’s not the same without Arnold’s response to called numbers (B-1: “With yourself.” B-4: “And after.”), and movie nights aren’t the same without Michael and his wife Marie cuddling in the doublewide chair.
Being surrounded by people who love you
It is comforting to remember that Arnold and Michael were actively engaged in life right to the end.
“Michael was so happy in his last days,” says nurse Jim. “His family and his Alcoholics Anonymous friends were there, and he loved getting to see them.” Staff, too, came to say goodbyes.
Days before Arnold died, Gretchen Gerhardt took him out for a walk.
“When I wheeled him around, it felt like a parade: Arnold would wave at every person, and they’d wave back. He even met a girl from the Philippines and they spoke in Tagalog,” she says. “He was always so proud of his family and their heritage.”
The Bailey-Boushay family remembers
When family and friends gather at Bailey-Boushay’s annual memorial service, they are welcomed back by staff and volunteers who remember and understand their loss.
“We celebrate those who have died here by remembering them,” says Executive Director Brian Knowles. “No matter how long residents were here, or how long ago, they’ll always be part of the Bailey-Boushay family.”
|Donor Debbie Killinger (center) gets a tour of the Bailey-Boushay kitchen from cook Jing Celma (left), food services manager Arnel Gonzalvo, and dietary associates Xiomara Blandon and Danilo Caneda.|
A strategic gift for kitchen remodel
Debbie Killinger likes knowing how things are done in an organization. “Partly why I support Bailey-Boushay House is they do things right,” says the longtime donor.
Take the planning for a remodel of Bailey-Boushay’s kitchen. “They involved the cooks,” says Debbie. “They respect their employees and trust them to give input.”
That’s the kind of organizational sense that appeals to Debbie when she strategizes how to contribute to the community through gifts, service and scholarships.
“It’s part gut, part heart, part research,” she says. “I really study this stuff.”
Coming up with a challenge
Debbie usually gives untargeted gifts, allowing organizations to decide their highest and best use. But occasionally, she gets more involved in a specific project.
That happened in 2013 with the kitchen remodel. As with many remodel efforts, the price tag for Bailey-Boushay’s kitchen remodel has increased. Debbie had already given Bailey-Boushay a generous gift of $25,000. But when she heard about the increased budget for the remodel, she came up with the idea of a 3-for-1 challenge grant: If Bailey-Boushay raises $25,000 for the kitchen remodel by the end of the year, Debbie will match it with an additional $75,000.
“The kitchen is so important,” she says. “And there’s no question that challenge grants work.”
The appeal of doable, needed work
Debbie’s combined gifts will make her Bailey-Boushay’s largest individual donor for 2013. “Giving is fun to do and it makes you feel part of things,” she says. “It is important to be strategic in my giving.”
She describes the remodel as “very doable” in scope and budget and “very needed,” after 21 years of wear and tear.
She also admires the smart thinking that has gone into the plan. One example she cites is taking advantage of reconfigured plumbing to add a space where wheelchairs can be rolled in for easier cleaning.
“Bailey-Boushay does really good stuff and meets critical needs in loving ways,” Debbie says.