Celebrate the Bounty – Bridging to the Future The 30th Anniversary of Saint Anthony Park Area Seniors Remarks

by Ted Bowman October 15, 2011
Good day to you! It’s an honor to have been asked to speak today. But, I am not the only speaker. Turn to your neighbor and say, “Hey, you look pretty good for being 30!” We do, don’t we? Turn to another neighbor and say, “Thanks for being here and for supporting this program!” The simple act of turning to a neighbor and saying supportive words reminds me of the history we celebrate today. Before I knew about the Block Nurse program, I heard Bob Veninga assert that those who get through a tragedy, those that deal well with adversity, point at least to one person who supported them and gave them a sense of hope. Bob, now an emeritus professor in public health at the University of Minnesota, and Ida Martinson had similar visions about the power of social support. Ida Martinson, 30 years ago, had a vision of social support for seniors that would enrich their quality of life, allow them to stay in their own homes, and remain a part of their community. Poet Marge Piercy described this power of neighbor to neighbor and community support this way: It starts when you say We Two people can keep each other sane, can give support, conviction, love, massage, hope, sex. Three people are a delegation, a committee, a wedge. With four you can play bridge and start an organization. With six you can rent a whole house, eat pie for dinner with no Let’s find about who is here today. Board members, past or present, please stand or wave * Staff members, past or present, please stand or wave * Recipients of service, please stand or wave * Anyone who has made a personal donation or facilitated a grant, please stand or wave * Guests from similar programs, near or far, stand or wave * Anyone who learned something from the concept of a 30 years ago a small group began to explore We-ness in this neighborhood. Ida Martinson talked with Joanne Rohricht and they talked with Ann Copeland and they talked with Ann Wynia and Barbara O’Grady and Marjorie Jamieson. Elmer Anderson and others were included and now you and me are still talking. Let’s salute those early dreamers who made a difference then, birthed an idea and concept that now exists in some form in many parts of Minnesota and elsewhere. An excerpt from "The Low Road" by Marge Piercy in The moon is always female(1980) New York: Alfred A. Knopf, pp. 44-45. seconds, and hold a fund raising party. A dozen make a demonstration. A hundred fill a hall. A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter; ten thousand, power and your own paper; a hundred thousand, your own media; ten million, your own country. It goes on one at a time, it starts when you care to act, it starts when you do it again after they said no, it starts when you say We and know who you mean, and each day you mean one more.

block nurse program and has used it with your own family or friends, please stand or wave Theologian and memoirist, Kathleen Norris, writing about small town South Dakota in her book Dakota, A Spiritual Geography – wrote that the etymology of the word gossip goes back in its antecedents to a village community, notoriously inter-related. Norris declares that gossip done well can be a holy thing. It can strengthen community bonds. The reality of and the presence of the then Block Nurse program and now St. Anthony Park Area Seniors enriches our community both for its many services AND for what in the literature is called perceived support. When neighbors begin to watch out for neighbors or when residents know that there are resources available, they do better. Shel Silverstein described helping in this whimsical way: Helping Agatha Fry, she made a pie, And Christopher John helped bake it. Christopher John, he mowed the lawn, And Agatha Fry helped rake it. Zachary Zugg took out the rug, And Jennifer Joy helped shake it. And Jennifer Joy, she made a toy, And Zachary Zugg helped break it. And some kind of help Is the kind of help That helping's all about, And some kind of help Is the kind of help We can all do without. from Where the sidewalk ends (1974) by Shel Silverstein. 30 years on now, Saint Anthony Park Area Seniors continues to discover what helping and neighboring is all about, what is not being done for seniors that needs now to be done, and what can we do without. That’s a high calling, a challenge, and a rich legacy. An image comes to mind for this occasion. It is the notion of the storm home that Garrison Keillor first described in a monologue on Prairie Home Companion years ago. He told the story of school children from the countryside being assigned an intown storm home to which they would go should there be a snowstorm that would prevent the buses from returning them home. In his inimitable style, Keillor described the supportive power of knowing that there was someone in town ready and waiting to take care of him in an emergency. Even though he never utilized the assigned resource, the boy in the story imagined himself surrounded by caring people, just waiting to extend their hospitality to him. Hot chocolate, games, and a welcoming environment were parts of his picture of what awaited his arrival Whether he knew it our not Keillor told a story of resiliency. For one of the protective factors for children or adults dealing with adversity – snowstorms, cancer, death, job loss - is social support. When someone believes that there are supportive people easily accessible the person benefits. I’ve thought often of Keillor’s imaginary storm home as I have listened to stories of disruptive changes in the lives of families or communities. Much more often that I expected, I have heard painful tales of who was not there at a moment at a time support was expected. Widows and widowers often read through the guest book registry after a funeral, noting who was not there as well as who was. Parents of children with special needs have often told me that people they thought of as friends failed to come forth when needed and wanted. Such stories have only reinforced the wisdom of the storm home metaphor, a

metaphor that resonates with the history of this wonderful program. My friends, your planning committee and, indeed, the pioneers would not want this to be a day for only looking back over the 30 year history. The title – Celebrating the Bounty – Bridging to the Future – is a reminder the work continues. Here are a few examples:

the medications, change the diapers, watch the swelling, take the vitals so that a mate can be a mate instead of a practical nurse, which is what Craig would have had to be if Alice had stayed at home”(Blaine-Wallace, 2002). The hospice was a storm home away from home. For St. Anthony Park Area Seniors, such services may occur in homes, at one of the neighborhood care homes, or at a hospital. Elbert Cole voiced an important perspective about

My wife and I walked out of a care facility one evening with a woman friend whose husband was dying of a brain tumor. As we exited together, I asked her if there was any other way than sitting with the two of them that I/we could be helpful. She looked suspicious and asked, “Do you really mean it?” Many persons had told her that if she needed something, they would be there for her. But she reported that too many rarely came around to check or reaffirm their supportive inquiry. Assuring her that the offer was genuine, she asked me if we would clean up her house. Surprised, I asked her to say more. She said, “Ted, it is so hard to be here in this place of dying and death everyday. I just don’t have the energy to clean the house any more.” I immediately came to the conviction that if anyone needs a nurturing environment (a storm home) to come home to, it must be those who have loved ones in hospitals, hospices, and nursing homes. We cleaned her house. St. Anthony Park Area Seniors is now exploring a range of services for people like our friend. “Craig crawled into bed with his wife, Alice, who was dying at the hospice. They slept together through the night. At the team meeting the next morning, the clinical director, upon reflecting on the experience, said, "That's what we aim for. We'll give

caring and caregiving: The shift from cure to care was an important decision. I realized my task was to manage life, while Virginia’s was to enjoy it. This program serves caregivers and carereceivers. I experienced the career equivalent of the storm home during my first visit to Martin House Children’s Hospice in the north of England. When Martin House was being created almost twenty-five years ago, the staff begin to foster a culture that one and all would attend staff support sessions not only for support when needed but also because it could be the day a colleague would need support. Most impressive is that the staff support sessions have been voluntary from their beginning until now. They are not staff meetings, they are not for purposes of supervision nor are they required. Almost perfect attendance has been the practice for twenty-five years. Staff at Martin House created a storm home to surround each worker as they do their important work. Most of us here are not staff in a hospice, but we are neighbors and our mission is to watch out for one another. We support the mission of St. Anthony Park Area Seniors whether or not we need support ourselves that day or any day. Finally, this account: "Barbara, we've known each other for well over a year, and we've been honest

with each other every step of the way." Briefly, her lips trembled, and then she regained her composure. Here eyes told me she knew what I was about to say. "I know of no medicines that I can give at this point to help you." We sat in heavy silence. Barbara shook her head. "No, Jerry," she said. "You do have something to give. You have the medicine of friendship." From The Anatomy of Hope: How People Prevail in the Face of Illness (2004) by Jerome Groopman. New York: Random House, p. 135. The medicine of friendship, storm homes, block nurse support, neighbor to neighbor, those are images that have guided and do guide decisions for care in this neighborhood. Friends, this is an intersection. My parents, when I was learning to drive, admonished me to look both ways at an intersection. We celebrate the bounty of past visions and actions. We pledge ourselves to future service of palliative care for neighbors and others. May it be so for 30 more years!