Friday, January 8, 2016

Story Time

Monique Ming Laven, KIRO 7 reporter and VolunteerTransportation driver, recently initiated a #SeattleAntifreeze campaign, an effort to challenge Seattleites’ reputation for being chilly (AKA: the “Seattle Freeze”).  Motivated by the proactive and compassionate response of many Seattleites after the Aurora Bridge crash, she was determined to show the world that Seattleites are warm, caring, and dedicated to helping one another.  They are far from frigid.

Monique has drawn from many of her volunteer driving experiences for her #SeattleAntifreeze reflections.  Like all Volunteer Transportation drivers, she knows that each client has a story to tell.  She writes poignantly to tell the unique stories of the many seniors she has met while giving them rides to their doctors.  Her narratives capture the personal connections of our program, so we’d like to share some of them with you today.  Sit back, grab a cup of coffee/tea, and enjoy some Volunteer Transportation-provided #SeattleAntifreeze!

#SeattleAntifreeze, Part 31: Decisions

It's not often that a divorce story makes you smile.

It's also not often you meet someone like Yoko.

I was lucky enough to drive her to her doctor today, and in the few miles we covered, I learned a bit about the many miles she's traveled.

She told me how she obeyed all her husband's decisions for more than 50 years. Those decisions moved them around the U.S., Japan, Scotland ... and she made a home wherever he laid down their hat.

She didn't give many more details about perhaps being mistreated - or definitely being taken for granted. But she did tell me that six years ago, he ordered her to pick up stakes and move again. She told me she finally refused to "be under his thumb." She wouldn't leave her life in Seattle. It was home. And so, at the age of 82, she got a divorce.

When he needed assistance a few years later, she was right there, helping move him into an assisted living facility. Their divorce was not about giving up on a marriage. It was about not giving up on life. Now she lives it on her own terms. She is making her own decisions.

Being a single senior without children is no walk in the park. "I'm getting older every day," she said with a laugh as she slowly got out of my car.

She shoved some cash in my hand. I protested and told her I am a volunteer for King County Senior Services. I didn't want her money.

But her 93 lb. body has a steel spine, and she would not take it back.

Our compromise: I would pass it along to someone else who could use it.

88-year-old Yoko may have to accept some help, but she's not too old to give some herself. It's her decision.

#SeattleAntifreeze, Part 30: New Day

His Ukrainian accent is strong, but his meaning was unmistakable: He is a man who honors his vows.

I learned a little about the strength and endurance of Mr. Fedorowicz's loyalty today. It was the second time I picked him up while driving for King County Senior Services. The first was several weeks ago. I thought I took him to a medical appointment. But as we headed in that same direction today, I said I hoped this time the doctor would be able to help him.

"I am not going to doctor," he said.

He sensed I was confused as I double-checked the address.

"I am going to see my wife," he clarified. Then he told me we were headed for her nursing facility. He visits every day.

"I feed her lunch," he said as he demonstrated how he holds the spoon. It was a quick, simple gesture, but I couldn't help but notice his gnarled fingers, some of them partially missing. Perhaps lost during his time as a child in a World War II labor camp -- maybe from other difficult experiences in his long life. Now they're dedicated to performing this simple but profound service.

I asked how his wife is doing and about their hopes or plans for the new year.

He smiled, and put his hand on my arm. "She is 94. We live day by day. Every time I come, I do not know what will happen. But she still knows me. That is good."

He smiled again and then headed inside, as he did yesterday, and as he will do tomorrow.

No need for Mr. Fedorowicz to look ahead to 2016.

He is simply wishing for a Happy New Day.

#SeattleAntifreeze, Part 27: The Frail Mask

Mr. Fedorowicz was born in Ukraine, but he didn't spend his childhood there. He didn't have much of a childhood at all. He was a child of war.

Ukraine has a complicated WWII history. Russia invaded, which threw some Ukrainian soldiers on the side of Germany. Others fought both the Red Army and the Nazis. For most, it wasn't about politics, it was about survival.

So it was for Mr. Fedorowicz. As a little boy, he was forced to work in labor camps. He was no child; he was a mule. But he survived. 

Eventually he found his way to Rhode Island, then here to Seattle. And today, into my car.
I gave him a ride to his doctor's appointment, and in those few minutes, this lovely 80-something year-old man was kind enough to share some of his life with me. As he got out, he struggled a bit to properly plant his cane on the sidewalk. 

He didn't have any issues with his balance. He was just preoccupied, explaining to me how thankful he was that a stranger helped him get to the doctor.

I was glad he didn't see me get a little teary-eyed. Instead, he kept talking. "I'll tell you a secret," he said, as I leaned in. "Getting old sucks!" 

We shared a laugh as he shuffled toward his doctor's office. And I was reminded again that frailty often masks the most incredible strength.

#SeattleAntifreeze, Part 13: The Perfect Point of View

How does Eileen stay so healthy and energetic? "I never got married," she tells me with a glimmer in her eye and a smile, "but I sure have dated a lot!"

Today I got to be Eileen's date on the way to her doctor's office. She told me all about the benefits of holistic medicine, yoga, and a positive attitude. I'd only driven her once before -- and that was countless months ago. Still, when she saw me, she gave me a big, fat smile, and an even bigger hug.

Then during our trip through downtown Seattle, she filled me in on how much weight a construction crane can bear; how big the cab of a crane is; how long it takes for the average worker to climb up to the cab. 

How does she know all this? There's a phase of construction going on right outside her window that'll last for a couple weeks. Each day the crew fires up at FIVE IN THE MORNING. Ugh.
The construction company came to her building to address residents' concerns. No doubt they were prepared for complaints and abuse. 

Instead, Eileen met them with curiosity and encouragement.

"But, Eileen," I said, "doesn't the noise and dust drive you nuts?!"

"Well, it's not their fault. And besides, I like looking out my window and seeing things being built," she said. Then with another smile and glimmer, she pointed at herself, "For years I've had a front row view of things falling apart."

#SeattleAntifreeze, Part 12: My Spoonful of Sugar

Nothing turns me into a witch out of hell like getting stuck in traffic. Except when my car *dies* in traffic.

A few weeks ago, I was driving for King County Senior Services, and I was headed to give a ride home to a man named Mr. Finley. We'd never met. I just knew he was finishing up a round of chemotherapy. Not an easy morning for him.

I was scooting along to Virginia Mason, when all of a sudden I saw lights and sirens.
An SPD patrol car pulled into the intersection right in front of me. Then it parked. In the middle of the street. 

China's President Xi was in town, and the streets were blocked so he could head from downtown to the East Side. I left a message with Mr. Finley's doctor. And we all waited. And waited. And waited.

After almost an hour, the street finally reopened. Yay! I went to turn my car on. No yay. Nothing. Except the people in back of me honking. 

Some drivers finally helped me push my car to the side of the road. I started dialing AAA. Then my phone died. Luckily a wonderful police officer helped me jump my car. But by the time I got to the hospital dear Mr. Finley had been waiting about 90 minutes.

I was angry, embarrassed, repentant. "Mr. Finley, I am so very sorry you had to wait so long. I know this is not an easy morning for you, and instead of helping you, I made the morning more difficult."

Without hesitation, Mr. Finley tucked his cane into my car, turned and patted my hand, and said, "Young lady, don't you worry a second. Every day I have is a blessing."

I was his ride - but he was my medicine.

We are excited to read more inspiring stories as Monique continues on her humanizing quest.  More about Monique and her #SeattleAntifreeze movement can be found on her Facebook page:


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“Behind the Wheel” offers stories, reflections, news and updates about Sound Generations’ (formerly Senior Services') Transportation Program. Throughout King County, our inspiring volunteers provide needed mobility to local seniors, supporting them in their efforts to remain independent, healthy, and happy. Please drop by to read more about the unique experiences of our volunteers, clients and staff!
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