(2014 CAREGiver of the Year June Lawing pictured here with Owner, Anna Edenfield)
Extraordinary is not a word I often hear or use describing another human being. An extraordinary person is someone who is notably unusual or exceptional; someone who has dedicated their life to exceptional service to others or works for the betterment of mankind. But, when I think of June, it brings to mind Gandhi, when he said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world”.
God works through each of our lives and his work through June Lawing is in the service to others, especially seniors. June’s call to help others is whenever and wherever she goes each and every day; whether it’s with the clients she’s had in her 7 years and 9,000 hours of caregiving with us or when not even working with Home Instead Senior Care. It can be just going to the grocery store, or going to exercise. No matter where, she always comes across someone who needs her. It could be a casual interaction, or a more in-depth one as in the experiences with one of her Clients. It’s almost as if she has this internal magnet for those in need.
June is a really beautiful human being, inside and out. She loves to laugh and find the humor in many different situations, even when the situation is bleak. She speaks in a melodic New Orleans accent, and like most New Orleans people, loves to “pass a good time”. Part of June’s essence is “let’s not take ourselves too seriously and bring some joy whenever we can!” In keeping with her New Orleans roots of (finding a reason to have fun), often times she would arrive at the office with her Client, both dressed for the occasion – it could be Mardi Gras, dressed in her purple, green and gold; or her personal favorite, Halloween, dressing in her “spooky” outfit of orange and black feather boa with bat earrings. Christmas time would find her lit up with lights, red and green, with ornamental earrings and pins. June even celebrates her past Clients when she wears a yellow sash for each Alzheimer’s Walk with a picture and name of each client or person she for which she has loved and cared. During her “free time” June collects stuffed animals and takes them to the nursing homes for residents to enjoy.
Her former client of 5 years was someone special in her own right, Miss Ashley. It was a match that was destined from the start. They became such close friends, going everywhere together, the church where Miss Ashley belonged, Doctors Appointments, restaurants, the mall. June cared for her as any compassionate caregiver would, and with as much joy and attentiveness as a loving daughter. They were like one of the greatest matches our company had ever witnessed. But then suddenly one day, Miss Ashley was gone.
I attended the services that cold spring day. There was June sitting in the front of the church with Miss Ashley’s only daughter, Anne. After the service we were directed outside where Miss Ashley was to be interred. The wind blew cold, and everyone huddled trying to keep warm. There was June standing again in the front, her shoulders were slumped, and she looked absolutely alone in the world. I made my way through the crowd of people at the end of the service, touching her arm to let her know I was there. She turned and looked at me with such deep grief in her eyes, and it was then I faced unalterable truth, June’s best friend had died.
Some months later, I was with a perspective family where I met a husband who was seemingly at the end of his rope. His wife, Joanne had been diagnosed several years before with Alzheimer’s, although still in mid-life. He relayed how he over the past few years he had tried to coax his wife to eat properly, to take her meds, to continue communicating with him. As with many families, his experience being the full-time caregiver was taking its toll. Joanne could no longer communicate well, seemed to possess an overwhelming desire to remain in the present, with her husband. She would fidget and try so hard to say something, only the words would not come. My heart broke for her. After the consultation, I started to think about who we could match with Joanne. Someone very compassionate, very caring, and consistent. A gentle, kind soul to coax Joanne out of her isolation. It would have to be an extraordinary caregiver.
The voice in my head said, “If only June……?” But, it had only been a few months since June’s heart was so broken. At one time or another, all the staff had wondered if she would ever care give again? But for this family, I had to try.
We pleaded our case to June over the phone telling her all we had discovered about the family during our visit with them. How sweet Joanne was and how this disease had effected not only Joanne, but her husband as well. During the phone call there was a long pause, and we were not knowing if she had healed enough to extend herself again. Her very next words were, “O.K., where do you want to meet for the introduction?” As it turned out, I had seriously underestimated the huge amount, the unconditional power of love within June. This was her life’s calling, caring for others. In keeping with her customary gusto for life, June was on again.
After learning from the office that Joanne’s beloved little dog was most unfriendly, June arrived at the introduction with dog treats in her pocket ready for the introduction. After learning on her first shift that Joanne loved chocolate, June arrived at the next visit armed with chocolate for her new Client to enjoy. June came in like a friend to Joanne, meeting her on Joanne’s terms, trying to let her know she was willing and able to live in her world, no matter what that might mean.
After Joanne, there have been other clients since; a frail woman who needed a friend to take her to chemo during one life’s most difficult times. Knowing the Client needed the nutrition, June always took her for a cheeseburger and an ice cream after every chemo appointment. Another client was simply lonely, just in need of a steady companion. June always took her to the mall in her wheelchair, although the client always complained she was too much trouble, June never listened. When it was her birthday, there was June with flowers.
One day while riding with a friend, June thought she saw a lady laying on the ground in front of a house they were passing. June insisted they stop and investigate. There she was, no one seeing her there, cars continuing to pass by. But June had seen her, stopped, called the ambulance and even helped her call her daughter. She waited with the lady for the ambulance to came, wanting to make sure this lady received all the help needed.On and on it goes, June with some kind of care radar, coupled with a magnetic force to touch people’s lives. She almost seems psychic. No matter where she goes, seniors in need are revealed.
June called just the other day to relay that she had been thinking she was getting on in years and had been seriously considering retirement. But as the story went, she had finally talked herself into going to exercise class. “So listen” she said, ”I was on my way to the restroom, and there on their knees in the elevator were two elderly gentlemen. One of them had dropped two shoe boxes full of prescriptions and pills were scattered everywhere. They were intently trying to fish them out of the door track maybe with concern that they would jam the door. Looking around I noticed a lady at the front desk just watching them, not even offering to help. Well, I thought, if I don’t help, who will?” So I joined them on the floor. There we were picking up pills with the door trying to close. It would bump my arm, only to open and bump me again. So on and on it went, the door trying to close and me trying to help pick up pills. I thought, well, I’m going to get a heck of a bruise, but if I don’t help these men, who will?” She helped them extract most of the pills out of the elevator door track. “The man who dropped the pills started to stand up and I could see he was having trouble not only standing up but walking away. I watched him walk away, not too well. Then this is when I realized, “How can I retire? If I’m not here to help, then who? God obviously is not done with me, he wants me around for these seniors.
Desmond Tutu said, “Your ordinary acts of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value.” June’s extraordinary care and inestimable value to our community and to Home Instead Senior Care is why we have chosen her as our Caregiver of the Year!
-Anna Edenfield, Franchise Owner Home Instead Senior Care Hattiesburg, MS