A True Artist

Jan 16

Jeff Goins recently hosted a fascinating podcast with Seth Godin on his latest book book The Icarus Deception.   It’s one of many fine books and many years of daily blogs that are eloquent and succinct.

For the last 100 years, we’ve operated in an “industrial economy”, one that was based on things that we manufacture to specific standards.  The focus was on creating mass quantities of indentical gadgets that have made our lives easier and resulted has made us richer in the material sense.  Now, we’ve shifted to a “connection economy” where, in our shrinking world, linked by technology,  which requires skill in serving and creating meaningful connections.

He offers this definition of “art” using three sets of three:  It must be new, real and important.  It must be human, personal and original.  It’s difficult, risky and frightening. Seth encourages us to embrace the former and overcome the latter. He questions the advice given to Icarus, to avoid flying too high.  Everyone can be an artist.

Karen Franklin is an aide at Swan Creek Retirement Village in Toledo, Ohio.  She cared for my mom for the last few years of her life.  Mom lived with a group of people that had similar needs in what is known as the Special Care Unit.  Generally, what Karen does it the farthest thing from what anyone considers art.  Those she serves have lost their independence and their identities. This type of work is seen as difficult and thankless.  Often, protocol trumps connection.  It’s safer I suppose.

We considered several assisted living organizations for both parents when they could no longer care for themselves. We focused on the aesthetics the buildings, ratings by public health agencies and we paid particular attention to the ratio of staff to residents.  On paper, it seemed like the best choice, which in hindsight, left out any real in-depth look at the people providing the services. Perhaps with our industrialized view, it never occured to us to look for the human, personal and original connections.

We picked the one with the nice building, but quickly learned that a gifted person was caring for my mom. Although many caregivers are kind and attentive, they seem to be operating based on weighty procedures sternly observed by supervisors.  Karen was a chameleon in the way that she guided each resident, firm with the “wanderers” and kindly supportive of those that were angry, afraid or confused.  Opportunities for frustration were everywhere, but Karen showed no signs.

My mother was physically quite agile, but needed prompting to get out of bed or take her meals.  Karen did this with incredible grace even though she was bombarded with the same behavior day after day multiplied by many residents.  Worse, she witnessed their inevitable decline.

She made a special point to spend time with us when we visited, recounting what my Mom could not tell us and more importantly, asking us about her. For all practical purposes this was not necessary.  She was caring for us as much or more than Mom.

We think my mom recognized us when we visited, although we could never be sure.  Her kind and sweet nature would not allow her react negatively even if she didn’t.  In her last few months, Mom was more distant and less alert generally, but she always reacted warmly to Karen, due to her keen perceptions about people, which remained even as the disease took her memories.

As her health deteriorated, she needed to move to the skilled nursing area in another area of the facility.  Karen visited my Mom often, sometimes assisting even though her job description didn’t require it or, perhaps, some rule actually prohibited it.  One day, when Mom was completely unresponsive, Karen was there, talking with her and arranging the pictures of her grandchildren within her line of sight.

One day in July, I met Karen outside Mom’s room.  She had not been eating and was growing weaker.  Karen told me it would not be long.  She seemed to know what no one could predict.  We’re sure Karen truly cared about every resident, but she effortlessly made it seem as if we were the only family in the world.

Mom passed away in July, but during the holidays, we received a wonderful email with pictures of Mom, Karen and the other aides at Swan Creek baking Christmas cookies during better times.  Once again, it was an act that was not required yet one that we will never forget.

We are eternally grateful for Karen and her art.

How do you define art?

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  1. What an astute observation… art is not necessarily what one considers traditionally “artistic” in nature, but anything that one does well in their own pursuits.

  2. Ed Hoover /

    Rick, Thanks for the story, the lesson, the confirmation for all who truly care for others. You described a true “Artist”.

  3. Rick Gibbs /

    Thanks Staci, waiting anxiously for your book…

  4. Rick Gibbs /

    Ed, I appreciate your kind words and advice from many years ago! Still have the Sunamerica Fund, by the way.

  5. Magnificent insight-too many times we allow small things in life to pass unnoticed.
    It’s great to see unsung heroes receive their song! Thanks for sharing this experience and blessing us all with it.

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