January 12, 2012

Optimistic problem solving

This "reviewing my life in order to write about optimism" decision is proving to be much harder than I imagined. Between work, school, and my multiple Optimist Club obligations, I haven't found the appropriate amount of time for reflection. But today I recalled a story from the past; a true story that makes me laugh, cry and feel optimistic all at once.

Since true storytelling has been proclaimed the stylish, new and best motivator, I thought I should share it here. After you read the story, take time to reflect on how stories like this, among others, have influenced your life. Enjoy.

I grew up around salespeople. Successful salespeople have a story that relates to whatever challenge is placed before them. 

About twenty years ago, just as caring for aging parents was becoming mainstream, Don, a salesman friend, gave me a lighthearted, yet profound glimpse into the aging process. 

Don's mom was living in a senior community; one that offered apartments for those who needed only a little help, graduated to assisted living when their needs elevated, and offered a smooth transition into skilled nursing if required. She was living in an apartment and my friend was afraid the time had come to seek more care.

The problem: Mom wouldn't change clothes unless someone was in the apartment with her. It didn't have to be a relative; anyone would do, but personal care service was an elevated need and that meant moving. 

No one wants to tell mom that the day has come to relinquish her independence. Full of compassion, he arrived at the apartment for the talk; but first he was determined to find out what was going on. "Mom," he said, "Please tell me why you won't change clothes."

Mom explained, "Don, I'm scared to."  She looked around the room cautiously, leaned in closely, and whispered, "I'm afraid of the old lady that lives in my closet."

Don went to the closet to show his mom that no one was living in there. She was hopeful and peeked in only to draw back, feeling betrayed. With wide eyes, she declared, "Why, she’s looking at me right now."

Don knew what he had to do. As Mom returned to her favorite chair, he marched into the closet and told that old woman to leave. He took the mirror off the back wall, carried it out to his car, and his mom was able to stay independent for a few more years.

This story has remained with me because it touched so many emotions including fear, acquiescence, sadness, happiness and optimism. Delivered in a conversational yet conspiratorial manner, the storyteller struck a fear that we all share, that we might someday live in a long-term care facility. As the story began, he explained the setting, set the stage and introduced a character well-known to all.

Using body language, he became the character as he leaned in to whisper her remarks and then drew back imitating her response. I felt that I was there, sharing a special secret, one that I would never have with my own mother who was deceased. 

Best of all, the storyteller solved the problem in a way that made everyone smile. The listener could remain optimistic about their ability to stay independent and live a full, rich life.
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