Have you ever had someone impact your life so much, that even after they are no longer around, they continue to speak to you in subtle ways? I have such a person that is always there, in her own folder in my email, named ” Peggles”. For those of you who have read my book, God’s Waiting Room, the story of Peggy, the obnoxious family member, clearly stood out as an entertaining, yet forthright person.
Today, I was once again reminded of her. Peggy’s mother, Marge, was in my care for over 8 years; even moving her mom to my facility when I changed jobs. Yet, every time you saw Peggy, she always had something to complain about. ” The food is too cold. The food is too hot. The bathroom is dirty. The lights are too bright. There are cigarette butts in the parking lot. Your employees are wearing their uniforms too tight. The uniform polo shirts are sloppy“…..on and on and on and on she would complain. If I saw her coming before she saw me, I would duck behind something and hide until she left! Those days, when she could not find me to express her complaints in person, she would jam my email box with a flood of emails all titled ” Concerns”. I neatly moved her “Concerns” over to her very own folder……the ones I replied to, they too went in a folder. She was the most annoying family member I have ever encountered. I considered her an unhappy grouch that just had to find fault with something.
You see, Peggy had a way of holding every caregiver and hot shots like me, accountable. Accountability is something no one likes……and probably why we didn’t like her. She visited her mother every single day…every single day…..sometimes TWICE ! She was not only an advocate for her mom, but for the entire facility…..pointing out what was wrong in every area and department. It became my goal to have at least ONE DAY that she would not be able to find anything wrong, out of place or unacceptable.
I would start in the parking lot, picking up even the smallest piece of trash. I would troll the hallways, checking to see everything through Peggy’s eyes. I engaged the staff, telling them we would celebrate if Peggy came and went without finding fault…..(pizza parties motivated them like no tomorrow).
We would fail at every attempt.
” The water temperature in mom’s room is lukewarm. I know there are laws about what it should be.”
“There is a light bulb out on the left side of the front patio”.
“The piano is extremely dusty.”
” The back bathroom on the left wing only has 2 paper towels remaining…..”
I never met the goal of perfection. But you know what? I learned so much from Peggy. I learned to notice everything, pay attention to every detail, and show interest in every aspect of the facility. What I considered to be a chronic-complaining problem, was actually a life lesson in progress. Tuning in to all aspects of what was going on around me, I began noticing the dust on my own piano keys in my home. I began replacing the roll of paper towels at my kitchen sink when it was down to the last one. I would stop as I was backing out of my driveway, to pick up the trash in the ditch. I took notice of the back porch light, that had burned out, probably two centuries ago……. I began taking responsibility for the things in my life, and changed what needed to be corrected.
The facility became a better place, as myself and the staff paid attention to details. Shirts were tucked in, burned out light bulbs were changed, the piano was spotless and bathrooms were stocked. I didn’t think Peggy knew we had made her our challenge…..but she did.
” Jessi, your staff has improved a lot in the past months. You see, if you don’t take care of the building and grounds. and take pride in it and yourself, how can anyone place their loved one with confidence in your facility? Good Lord child, if you can’t take care of a thing, how can you take of a human being?”
A few years ago, I attended Peggy’s funeral. Cancer took over her body, eventually consuming her. As I sat in an overflowing church, I looked around and saw Four Star Generals, highly decorated men and women, business leaders and government officials all showing their respects to her and her family.
Peggy made a difference in my life. She made me a better person both in my personal and professional life. Each time I open my email box, there she sits, watching. As I attempt to write a colorful email to a family member, I have to pass by Peggy to do it. Accountable. That’s what Peggy would call it. Accountable.
I miss her…..and I hope that she glares down at me from the heavens and says….” Jessi, your staff is greatly improved, but.………….”