These days, Mom’s words come few and far between and she tends to speak only when spoken to. I’ve never had that problem, as I probably talk more than most folks. As a daughter of a dementia sufferer, I pray that my words last until I take my final breath. My words certainly served me well this week as I toured the Chicago suburbs for seven presentations in five days for an amazing company called Brookdale Senior Living Solutions. Some people might have thought that the trip was too ambitious, but I knew it would be inspiring for me.
The trip started on May 10th with a flight out of DC at 5:50 am and when the plane landed in Chicago I was more than ready for the first presentation in Vernon Hills. It’s a place I’ll never forget, not only because of the amazing staff and beautiful accommodations, but also because it has a real rainforest that has won excellence in landscape awards. The rainforest benefits the residents who live there in so many ways primarily because it promotes life and growth, and provides them with a natural source of Vitamin D. The meeting space was beautiful dining room and guests were all treated to a full luncheon before the presentation. Each table had flowers and a book flyer and bookmarks beautifully set up. I felt so cared for, just truly special.
Later that night I arrived at Hawthorn Lakes, where the audience was made up primarily of Brookdale residents, but was a lively group who enjoyed the chef prepared shrimp appetizers, cheese, crackers and wine. The highlight of the evening was meeting a 90 year old man who purchased a book saying it was the best presentation he’d heard, even though I talked really fast! I was very proud that he wanted to purchase a book! I had done a new presentation for Vernon Hills and Hawthorn Lakes called Parenting Our Parents which focused on general caregiving, as opposed to a dementia focus. Lord knows I’ve had my shared of caregiving with my grandmother Alberta, my aunts Diane and Frannie, my sister Renee and my dear friend Pat.
On May 11th, I had a great time at an afternoon presentation in Orland Park, where there was an awesome group of folks. We all enjoyed a wonderful cheese and fruit tray and chatted as if we’d known each other forever. I spent some time with a woman I was honored to meet, as she came to the presentation in spite of the fact that she had just lost her brother to suicide and was trying to decide whether or not to tell her mom. She shared that she came to the presentation because she heard I was inspiring! We hugged and shed a few tears.
The next day, May 12th was life-changing day for me. The day started early with a full breakfast buffet at Burr Ridge, where the presentation was held in the local library because of renovations at Brookdale. The entire Brookdale staff was on hand, and we all had a complete blast setting up the room for the event and getting to know one another. For every participant at the event, there was a gift bag with an adult coloring book with colored pencils, and a beautiful bookmark. Everyone chatted at the end as I signed books and people seemed to be so excited to have learned a lot and shared with each other. One woman who was there had come to Orland Park the day before but missed the first 20 minutes of the presentation due to traffic. So she drove two hours to Burr Ridge and arrived an hour early just to see the entire presentation in full this time. I was so appreciative that she felt she needed to see it twice and she and I chatted quite a bit before and after the event and vowed to stay in touch!
With a five hour break after the presentation I was so excited to go downtown to the Museum of Science and History to see a LEGO exhibit I really wanted to see. It was awesome!! I was proud of myself for not going back to the hotel to work, but instead allowed myself to have some fun that wasn’t related to my presentations.
Then it was time for the most life-changing part of the day. Next up on the schedule was Joliet. I had had the most email conversation with the Brookdale staff prior to the event, so I felt as if I had already had gotten to know a few of them. Driving up to the facility, the first thing I saw was a welcome banner hanging from the building with my name on it. The rest of the locations had my name in a frame or on a nicely decorated sign which were all awesome, but this sign was mind-blowing! Then I entered the facility and heard a few people say “there she is!” After hugging almost the entire staff as if we had known each other for all of our lives, I was taken to a “green room” which was an empty studio apartment with a couch and snacks and balloons selected just for me so I could rest before my presentation. My thought was “are you serious?” I stayed in the room checking email and enjoying the drinks and snacks until 5pm when the staff came to get me so I could start to meet and greet the crowd. I thoroughly enjoyed laughing and talking with the guests, residents and staff. The dinner was simply incredible, with chicken, fettucine alfredo, roasted potatoes, asparagus and cheesecake. Agenda and handouts were at every place setting. Shortly after dinner in a dining room full of people, I gave a very spirited presentation which the audience seemed to really love! I even was given a gift basket afterwards, which was unbelievable given all the special treatment they had already given me! I simply love the staff at Joliet!
When I went to bed that night, the entire day continued to flash before my eyes. The great staff, the green room, the amazing food, the hospitality and attention to every single detail. They made me feel like a superstar!
The next day the May 13th presentation was held at a golf course because of renovations at the Brookdale Prospect Heights location. It was a very small crowd, but very participatory!! Two participants were siblings who came because of their other siblings who attended the Joliet presentation. As soon as they arrived they told me that their siblings said, “you must go see Loretta in Joliet” and in spite of the fact that they had to drive a long way, they came. I was so elated! We had a wonderful breakfast of yogurt, coffee cake and a variety of mini quiches. The staff gave me a scarf as a gift and a hand-written note that was written while I was signing books and explained why they loved my presentation. It was so great to receive an actual hand-written note!
The rest of Friday afternoon I graded lots of Webster and University of Phoenix papers, assignments and final exams, but I also found myself relfecting on this week. I thought about the number of people I had hugged, shared hearty laughs and a few tears with, and watched people so elated to learn they were receiving a free copy of my book! Just an amazing time!! I even treated myself to room service for dinner, resting up instead of going out in the cold and rainy weather.
I departed the hotel on Saturday morning at 6am and headed to Urbana, Illinois the last stop of the trip. It was a 2 1/2 hour drive and I prayed for good traffic which would allow me to get to the location an hour before start time. It was a beautiful ride through farmland and I arrived 90 minutes ahead of schedule giving me plenty of time to have coffee and relax with the staff before I started at 10am. In typical Brookdale fashion, my hosts were fabulous and made me feel right at home!! I was thrilled when I learned that the event would be held in the chapel. I’ve found that all of the presentations this week were spiritual in nature but this one was especially so!
I left Urbana at noon for the almost 3 hour drive to O’Hare Airport. My luck of great traffic continued and I realized that for the entire week I had experienced no problems at all. While I did see several serious accidents on Tuesday the day that I arrived, none of them slowed me down at all. One thing I learned from my Mom is to ALWAYS be on time. So no matter how far I had to drive, I was early for all seven preparations! As I started to write this blog post I tried to come up with one sentence to describe this week, but I found it impossible to do. How do you explain a week where you immediately bond with people you’ve never met over a disease that robs us so much?? I’m glad that I was able to share Mom with so many people through my presentations, and that I had the opportunity to see photos and hear stories of so many of my new friends loved ones. So while there aren’t enough words to describe all of my thoughts and feelings about the last five days, one word, LOVE does describe what I tried to spread this week, and it’s certainly what I received from Brookdale staff members and their guests. I’m grateful and blessed and I’m always reminded that I’m not alone on this journey. Thanks Brookdale Senior Living!!