“No decent man could have allowed an animal to suffer like that, they should have put him in jail. ” This is one of the sentiments expressed in the book, Saving Simon. Simon is a donkey who is very much in need of rescue, from the neglect that was bringing him close to death. The farmer who owns Simon has so many pressing concerns, that the right time never comes to attend to his donkey.

As the story unfolds, you realize it is about much more than the rehab of an animal. An animal that many point out hasn’t much purpose anyway. It is the story of several animals and people who enter and exit the writer’s life, as he tends to Simon. And yes, the story of that farmer, who never intended the lack of care for Simon to get as out of hand as it did. Many people could connect with the farmer as he waits and hopes for his situation to get better. When it does, he tells himself, he will make everything right.

But when considering Simon and his worth, how worthy is a donkey anyway? The point is made that while many people are shocked and outraged at the crimes against animals. The same people can be unfeeling for other people.  People can be labeled good or bad and therefore worthy or unworthy, of our concern.

This is a book you will think of often, after you have put it down. Compassion, the caring for someone or some thing with no thought of return. When the one you are caring for is unable to give you even gratitude in return. The lesson here on compassion, is so fitting, during the holiday season. Saving Simon, by Jon Katz a wonderful gift for any season.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing


Grandma Lucy always has a big smile on her face. She is already in the late stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Grandma no longer talks or seems to understand what others are saying to her. She now needs total assistance bathing, dressing and eating.  Yet, Grandma Lucy can still walk and while she cannot go through the many steps of dressing. Once dressed she is able to pull down her slacks, as well as  incontinent brief, and then go to the bathroom.

The problem arises because Grandma no longer can identify the correct place to toilet. When she feels the urge to go to the bathroom, any flat surface she can sit on, will do. She no longer plans or anticipates that she will be needing a bathroom. In the moment when she feels the urge, she answers the call in a public place, secret place, anywhere she finds an opportunity to sit.

Missing the toilet, and using either another object such as a waste basket, or a flat surface such as a chair, sofa, or recliner is common, in a dementia unit, in a nursing home setting. Especially common, for those elderly who continue to be able to walk independently. Grandma Lucy always was a great walker, and has continued to be able to walk, even though now she walks without a destination. She just appears to be wandering as she keeps retracing her steps, all day long.

But contrary to the many who are no longer this active, she has no problems with constipation. On the contrary, Grandma is as regular as clock work. And this fact provides the solution for Grandma’s problem.

When a confused elder like Grandma Lucy can’t plan or anticipate needing to use a toilet, the caregiver needs to provide this service. Her caregiver knows that Grandma Lucy has a bowel movement everyday, about a half hour after breakfast.  As many people know, having a cup of hot coffee in the morning, and chewing breakfast, stimulates the colon and bowel.

Now the caregiver keeps a close eye on Grandma Lucy after breakfast, and right on time walks her to the bathroom. Grandma Lucy is now greeted with smiles and welcome during her wanderings instead of looks of suspicion.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing


There they sat in their usual places next to the nurses station, in the nursing home. The two of them, good friends, enjoying a warm and deep conversation. Just the way all, old friends enjoy doing. They were deep in discussion about other residents of the home. One by one, they went through the list of people living on their floor.

Talking about Barbie who is so cheerful even though she has had MS now for many years. The friends talk about how sad they feel for her, how hard her life is, how hard it must be for those young nursing assistants to take care of her.

They talk about Lillian who isn’t so cheerful, and even though Lillian has said many a harsh comment to these two old friends. All they can say about her is that she must have had a hard time, something must have happened to her to make her so grumpy. They express as much sympathy for Lillian as they do for the so cheerful and nice Barbie.

And so they go on, talking about each elderly neighbor of theirs in this nursing community. As they talk, what you hear is genuine caring for their neighbors. A total lack of judgement on their part for either difficult personalities or for behaviors that most likely caused the declines in health. Like the parade of neighbors constantly making trips outside to smoke. No judgement here.

When they give kind words of encouragement to others, they don’t expect anything back. They have taken the time to get to know their neighbors families, so they can brighten people’s days by mentioning how smart or cute someone’s grand-kids are. When a neighbor gets bad news, they cry with them as though it is their bad news.

They are the true meaning of benevolence, they live it. What makes it so much more surprising is that one of the friends is only 57 years, living in the nursing home because she has end stage renal disease. She never married, has only one brother living who never comes to visit. She is living on medicaid, clips coupons, goes to dialysis, and looks forward to trips to Walmart.

The other friend keeps waiting for the day when her daughter will arrive to move her to a nursing home closer to her family. She is a very fragile 87 year old, living with the hope that her family will come and get her.

Benevolence – when there is nothing in it for you. So surprising, how much people with nothing can give and continue to be benevolent.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing


It was at the Ladies Aid society where Joyce dropped her bombshell question. Why don’t you ladies live together? With a look of bewilderment, Mary said “I don’t want to leave my house and my things. I guess it would be alright if someone moved in with me, but I can’t leave.”

This group of elderly widows had just been talking about how hard it was for them to; clean, shop, cook, and some no longer drove or never had learned to drive and had to depend on someone else for transportation. When they got together they all shared these personal challenges that could be somewhat fixed by living together, yet from the look on their faces Joyce knew this wasn’t even a consideration.

Joyce knew where Mary lived, a large home in the older part of town. Mary had lived there her entire married life, raising her three children there. That once big lively house had been now for many years home to only Mary.

Americans have a deep sense of independence. Being independent has been romanticized in the United States since the days of the settlers. Little has been written about all of those women out on the prairies who went mad living miles from their neighbors. Yet for all of the strong feelings of independence, ownership, property and things, we still very much depend on each other.

Our food is grown and sold by people we will never meet, if the electricity goes out strangers come to climb the poles and fix it, a friend of mine spins her own wool for the sweaters she knits for her family but I have never known her to own sheep. We are a community of commerce providing products and services but a “culture of community” we lack.

My sister has a goal of creating a community board where elderly people could register and they would be pared with another person of like interests to share living space. Companionship, increased safety, shared chores, and a richer life, doesn’t sound too bad.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing


In this ever changing world, I guess someone had to come up with death dinners. The idea being that you dine with a special group of people with the predetermined dinner topic being death, and more to the point, your death. If you are interested in this new dinner party idea, I would offer some suggestions.

Suggested diners could be a nurse, even better a hospice nurse who could give the group a realistic idea of the many ways people die. Include wise and thoughtful people that you always enjoy dining with, even when there is no theme. Avoid including those who haven’t aged well, those who are bitter and even angry. Avoid those who never give anyone else the opportunity to speak.

In many cases a death dinner might actually be a good thing. If in fact the fellow diners are your family or heirs, and yours is a family that avoids this sensitive subject.  Having a talk over dinner may provide a clear understanding of your wishes, while talking about inheritance may end speculation on the part of those who think they will benefit from your demise. I have often wondered when there is considerable money involved, why the elder didn’t just give it to their children before they died. Maybe they were worried that if the money was given early, they might be then left alone in their later years.

What I know:

·         At the end of their days the dying never laments not having spent more time working. Many of the dying wish they had spent more time with family.

·         Questions about feeding tubes, do not resuscitate orders, placement in a nursing care facility, and so on, are rarely discussed prior to a need.

·         Many of the dying, question if they have done enough-even those who appear comatose need to be told that they did well, and it is now alright to go.

·         The best death is the person who dies in the faith. Books have been written about those last moments, that many a member of the clergy has been privileged to see.

Have the conversation? Absolutely. Have the conversation over dinner? All the better. Inviting people to a “Death Dinner?” Maybe if you are a member of the stage, screen and television crowd, and you want to make the news.  But, if you are an average Joe, why the drama? Just call it dinner.

Virginia Garberding R.N.

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing



After getting used to the idea that someone she didn’t know had left her this gift of a Christmas Jar. Joyce decided to find out if this was a rare and unusual incident. Thanks to our wonderful and informative internet, Joyce soon found the Christmas Jar site and sent for the book by Jason F. Wright.

Mr. Wright tells a very engaging and motivating story of a very lonely young woman. The book is a real page turner as you can see this woman’s need, even as she misidentifies what her real need is. In the end you can see that the jar represents much more than money. 

As Mr. Wright says “Since the first printing of Christmas Jars, many readers across the country have contacted me to share their own personal Christmas Jar miracle.  I’ve been told of jars brimming with change left in the dead of night, jars handed off to strangers in hospital parking lots, jars magically appearing on kitchen counters, the work of caring, stealthy neighbors. Children have opened their eyes Christmas morning to find gift and joy they could only have dreamed of days before. All this because someone saw a need and chose to serve.”

For many stories of the miracle of Christmas jars go to:

Read heart wrenching stories of sickness, financial struggles, and then the miracle of a Christmas Jar from a stranger. A wife writes about her husband with throat cancer and her struggles to buy the only canned food he was now able to tolerate. They received a jar with the book and she writes, “What the jar did was give me hope for the New Year.”

A woman in Utah writes, “But the real gift is the love. It is knowing that I am not facing the challenges of the world completely alone, because somewhere out there, someone is putting their change in a jar.”

The site even includes people who give the jars. A woman in Kentucky who gave three jars this year writes, “It is the highlight of our celebration of the greatest gift ever given – Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

What a New Year Resolution – read the book, read the blog, get a jar – join the tradition!

Virginia Garberding RN



Joyce returned home from the Christmas Eve service late. But as she pulled into her parking space, in front of her condo, she could just make out something red in front of her door. It was a red cookie jar with a note attached. As she tried to push the jar to the side in order to open her door, Joyce soon realized this was a mighty heavy cookie jar. Unable to lift it she put it on its side and rolled it into the condo.

The note attached said: “Merry Christmas. We do not know you and you do not know us, but we know that God knows you intimately. We would like to give you this Christmas gift to just let you know God loves you and knows what needs you have. This jar of coins is a reminder that God is real and cares for you. Maybe this will help pay a bill, buy a gift or a special meal. We are just trusting that through this jar of coins you will know God sees you, loves you and will take care of your needs. We pray the reminder of God’s love will draw you close to him.”

Joyce didn’t know what to think. 2013 had been a very difficult year for her. She; had lost her job of 15 years, after living in the same house for 37 years she was forced to move, her youngest daughter had miscarried three times this year,  and she seemed to be getting chronic infections.

Joyce looked inside the cookie jar, and yes it was full of coins. Coins and one random lemon drop with the occasional piece of lint. Yes, this jar had been put together by some person saving their pocket change, (over what certainly looked like a year) and giving it to a stranger. Maybe this was their Christmas custom. Maybe every year they picked another person to give a small Christmas miracle to.

Yet, when Joyce read the note her first thought was “why me?” She wasn’t one to share her problems and doubted her new neighbors knew of her misfortunes. Joyce knew there were many people who were in much greater need than herself. She had food, shelter and family that she always knew she could count on.

Joyce didn’t know what she would do with the money, but she realized the gift she would keep was that jar with the note inside. She would put it in a place of honor in her kitchen, so she wouldn’t forget her personal act of kindness the Christmas she needed it.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

Author: Please Get To Know Me – Aging with Dignity and Relevance


“Mom I just love you” says Matt as he leans over and hugs his mother. There they sit the those three beaming people, Mom, Dad and son Matt. What do they have to be so happy about?

“Mom” is 88 and in the very advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease. It is very unlikely that she has known who Matt is for some time. Yet here she sits with the biggest smile on her face as these two beaming men, shine smiles back on her.

“Dad” has stitches around both of his eyes; he just recently had eye surgery. Yet, when asked, he says he is, “Fine, just fine, don’t worry about me.”

While Matt and Mom are hugging the heck out of each other, I ask Dad if the family has always been so happy. Oh yes, he tells me of the early years of their marriage, when his mother-in-law lived with them.

The thought races through my mind “Mother-in-law?  Oh no!”

My three son-in-laws are just great to me, but the last thing I think they want to see is their mother-in-law everyday – much less live with her. Yet here is this man telling me, yes, his mother-in-law lived with them for many years. “She had no money, so what was she to do?” he goes on to tell me.

What he remembered the most from those years was gathering around the piano, and while his wife played and the whole family would sing. As Dad told me of the hard times this family experienced, he always came back to how they gathered around that piano and sang together.

Matt looked at me and added that; yes they were “raised happy.” Didn’t he hear his Dad talking about the business failures, untimely deaths, and all the trials of his family? Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but all he wanted to talk about was those great times, around that piano, with his mother playing. He learned from his parents to choose, happy.

Virginia Garberding, R.N.

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

Author: Please Get To Know Me – Aging with Dignity and Relevance


I truly feel the warm thoughts and sincere prayers coming to me at this time, due to the loss of my Mom. As I worked with my sister clearing out her room I was struck by the flow of nursing assistants, nurses and activity staff who came to the room to pay their respects. With tears and hugs they said how they would miss this very old woman. Miss this woman who had to be so much work? A woman who just had to be a burden for anyone charged with her care.

Webster tells us that a “burden” is a heavy load, something that causes grief, hardship or worry. Taking care of Mom was a heavy load.

I knew what those words meant. Mom was an elder who needed a mechanical lift to move anywhere. She was an elder unable to help with even the smallest step in her care. Mom had a debilitating stroke 13 years ago which cost her, her place in the community, and won her a permanent place in the nursing community. Once she entered the nursing community I never heard any bitterness in her voice. Though to many her life would certainly have seemed very bitter, I never heard her say, “why me?”

Mom had just celebrated her 90th birthday. Many years that brought not only changes in abilities for her but this once beautiful woman lost teeth, hair, became contracted and had to be fed all her meals.

As the years went by and the nursing community changed and there were too many new faces and new names for me to keep up with, what didn’t change was the connection Mom made with her caregivers. When I entered the unit where Mom lived, I would be greeted by a happy, smiling nursing assistant calling out to me “I got your Mom up today.”  Why so happy? Why the smile? I know how hard that task was for you.

But taking care of Mom also meant one on one time talking to Mom, and Mom was filled with joy. When Mom passed away I know everyone in that nursing community knew where Mom went.  Because when you spent time with Mom the conversation didn’t just center on her care issues. In that shared room in a nursing community in southern Wisconsin Mom let her light shine, and she shared her joy.

To find your joy, you can start where Mom did at John 3:16.


Virginia Garberding, Daughter


Tomorrow is National Bosses Day, while many people are born leaders and always seem to know the right direction for the group. Some of us can learn a little from nature.


The lead goose takes the brunt of the wind and the flapping of all their wings creates an updraft that helps all the other birds in the formation. When a goose leaves the formation they quickly try to get back into formation because they experience a drag and it is harder to fly without the others.


The lead goose, when they get tired will move to another place in the formation, letting another goose take the lead.


Geese in the formation honk to encourage those in the lead. And when a goose becomes too weak to keep up – two other geese leave the formation with that goose. These two will stay with that goose until it can rejoin the formation or they join another formation. If needed, the two geese will even attempt to revive the fallen goose.

What if people acted the same way? What if instead of everyone wanting to be the leader, everyone took turns leading? What if everyone was interested in supporting each other instead of number one?

What if everyone learned a way to show their support and encourage others? Especially, to those among us who have been hurt and need some helping hands.

Sometime it takes trouble, or if you will a disaster, to get the best out of people and make them act like – well like geese.

Virginia Garberding R.N.

Director of Education, The Wealshire, Lincolnshire, Illinois

Author: Please Get To Know Me – Aging with Dignity and Relevance