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From My Window

Issue Date: July 5, 2018

A Personal Act of Kindness



By Jane Thibodeau Martin,



Now that I am back in Wisconsin a thousand things I look at, hear or feel bring back memories. One of the memories struck me in a new way " a way I hadn't appreciated at the time that I first saw it.

My mother-in-law Alice spent many years in a care facility in Wausau. Because of her physical challenges, she could no longer live at home. Yet her mind stayed pretty sharp until nearly the end. Sometimes people in this situation can turn bitter, or depressed. They complain about their situation, the food, the people around them, or their caregivers. Alice was not like that. In fact, she seemed to thrive in her environment, taking part in many organized activities and making friends to play cards with. She loved getting visitors and sometimes when we dropped in we would find someone there visiting in her room already. Part of the reason she got visitors was because she was upbeat and grateful for company.

One of the people we found in her room more than once was a man who was from the same tiny community, Halder, as my husband's family. He was a well-preserved older gentleman and he had a personal mission when he visited her care facility.

He frequently dropped in to visit all the residents who were from the extended Halder area (country folk tend to define "neighbors" differently than city people.) And besides his cheery conversation, he came with a little kit of glasses cleaning materials.

He'd visit for a few minutes, then ask if the resident would like their glasses cleaned. Of course most older people do end up needing glasses " but cleaning them is not always a task easy to accomplish for older people. And care facility staff are usually pretty busy. So for Alice, who only had one useable hand, this was a much-welcomed offer. He'd carefully slip off her glasses, and then continue to visit as he wiped them down and polished them. Then he would carefully place them back on her face and check with her to make sure he hadn't missed any spots. After a few more minutes, he'd say his goodbye with a reminder that he would be back in a few weeks " and indeed, he always was. Then he would go on to the next resident on his "list."

At the time I certainly appreciated that he was a personable and kind man. But what I didn't really appreciate until my blinding glimpse of the obvious now, was how much went into this seemingly simple act of kindness.

First he had to drive to the care facility and bring his materials. Then travel from room to room, never in a big rush, and always with a few fun topics to talk about. He cleaned numerous pairs of glasses, and then returned home. What was a 20 minute stop in Alice's room was probably only a small part of an entire afternoon of effort for him.

It also took a little bit of observation, and imagination, for him to create this "job" for himself. What he came up with was, in my experience, totally original. And the opportunity was right in front of a lot of us, without us ever seeing it.

Imagine how many more little jobs there are that could make a difference to others. I often hear that each of us has some special talent or gift we can share. But so few of us identify it, and act, like Duane.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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