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My Friend Len


Len is a natural born caregiver.  Over the past six years that I have known him, he has taken under his wing countless elderly neighbors with no living relatives, he spent most of the time his mom was ill either in an airplane winging his way back to the Midwest to visit her or on the telephone trying to corral his siblings to support him as he struggled to help her. He has adopted so many stray animals in his neighborhood that his condominium association has put a limit on how  many pets any member can have in their apartment at any given time. Len would often get up in the wee hours of the morning to rummage through garage sales and flea markets to find treasures for the residents in the nursing home in which he worked as a chef.

Oh, did I mention that at the drop of a hat and for any occasion, he would single-handedly whip together a dinner party, (always making the most incredible variety of entrées and indescribably delicious desserts) and always just as successfully bringing together a disparate group of celebrants who would otherwise have had nothing in common. Anyone who has ever attended one of Len’s dinners could be heard raving about the evening for weeks to come. One of these recent dinner parties held by Len occurred only days after he was released from the hospital, just after his cancer surgery. Of course as usual, he would accept no help in putting the evening together.

Since then, Len has had several strokes and been diagnosed with such diverse symptoms as to be diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD).  Every move Len makes these days causes him great pain.  But no pain is greater to Len than the fact that he can no longer do as much as he has done for so many of his friends and neighbors. In a recent conversation, I asked him why he doesn’t take me up on my offer to come over and use the pool for therapy or why he does not answer his other friends calls to help him.  You already know the answer “Because I wouldn’t want to be a burden”.

In a recent conversation, I held my breath and suggested that he consider that just possibly we would all feel better if he would let us help him and that he may want to use the concepts of my “Reverse Gift List”  to ask for the help that he needs. I have heard from many caregivers about how the Reverse Gift List has helped them get the support they didn’t know how to ask for, but I had never suggested it to such an obstinate test subject as Len.  Well, last week I received a call from another one of Len’s friends saying that she was putting together a dinner to celebrate Len’s birthday and he had asked her to call people with a specific list of things they needed to do for the party.  

Now isn’t that just like Len - giving me a gift on his birthday.

Gary Barg

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