Celebrating Moving Forward’s 10th Anniversary!!!
I started Moving Forward ten years ago in 2004. I’d never run a company before and I had never heard of a company helping seniors move and downsize. It was a pretty wild idea, but I felt utterly compelled to do it.
My first client was such a tough cookie, it almost ended there. We’ll call him Ira.
Ira’s son, Carl (not his real name either), called me in a state of desperation. “I don’t know if you can help or not, but my dad’s got dementia. He really needs to move to some kind of facility, but he’s dead set against it. I work full time, my wife and I are expecting our first baby, and my dad is calling me to come all the way from Redmond to Seattle to help him almost every day. I’m exhausted. I tried to suggest that he move into an assisted living and now he is furious at me. But he’s still calling me. Can you convince him to move?”
I gave Carl the number of a geriatric care manager. A week later Carl called me back. “Oh my God! He actually agreed to move! We have to do this quickly before he changes his mind. Can you complete it by Thursday?”
I had no idea if Thursday was even within the realm of possibility, but this was my opportunity. “Well, certainly,” I said with reassuring authority.
Carl’s wife met me at Ira’s apartment, so she could introduce us. “Ira, this is Katie. Katie this is Ira. Good luck, you two!” and she ran for the door. I was left alone with a large and very grumpy looking man.
I sat down next to him and he growled, “This is disturbing. Very disturbing.”
Fortunately I had just read a book about reflective listening, so I didn’t make that cardinal error of saying, “Oh don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”
Had I had said that, I think Moving Forward might have ended right there. Ira was NOT in the mood to be jollied along. So I did what the book said and asked a question so Ira could express his feelings.
“So you’re finding moving disturbing?”
“Yeah. Disturbing. Very disturbing,” He jumped up and thumped around the room, banging his walker into the floor at every step.
“So it’s disturbing. Um … Have you lived here a long time?”
“Yeah. Long time. Ten years.”
“Ten years. That’s a pretty long time. Have you liked living here?”
You can see that Ira was quite the conversationalist. (Joke) But he was calming down, a little bit. Eventually I got him to sit back down and I tried to direct his attention to the floor plan.
Instead he glared at me, “Are you a professional?”
Ouch! Right into my biggest insecurity. Big smile, “Why yes. I am.”
“A professional WHAT?”
Yea-ikes! I knew what he meant, Are you a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant or somebody I should respect? What qualifications do you have and why should I listen to you at all anyway?
But I couldn’t take back what I had said already. So I tried to keep my voice from shaking, “This is my profession. I help people move,” hoping like heck he didn’t ask me how many years of experience I had.
Putting on my best professional expression, I plowed ahead, “Now the first thing we always start with is selecting the furniture – Like there was any one thing that I had ever started out with.
He was still glaring at me. “I’m an engineer.”
“Oh really? What kind of an engineer?”
“I helped design the stabilization system for [an early NASA space] mission.”
“No kidding! I watched the first manned space launch in the first grade. It was such a big deal that the teacher brought in her television so we could all watch it. You were actually an engineer for NASA? Wow.”
Turned out that Ira had a PhD in physics. Now I had to take two semesters of physics in college and I’ll bow to anyone who actually majored in it. Even if he had dementia now, I was still a bit in awe. He showed me his professional awards and a plaque with a chunk of insulation that had orbited the earth. I was sincerely impressed.
I asked how the stabilization systems worked. Maybe it was too hard to explain or maybe he had forgotten. But it didn’t matter, because by that time we were becoming friends.
I tried again to see if we could talk about the floor plan. By this time, I understood his inability to express himself the way he wanted, so I asked him a question I hoped he could answer. “I bet you’d like to take your bed, right?”
“Uh … yeah.”
“And how about the nightstand with the lamp on it?”
“Not that one. It’s broken. Take that one.”
Now we were making progress. We finished the floor plan and my mind leaped over to the closet. “You won’t have room for all of your clothes over there. Which ones are your favorite ones?”
“All of them.”
Bad question! Ira was in the dining room, not in the closet where he could see his clothes. I was asking him to remember his entire closet and tell me which items were important to him. Impossible for anyone, let alone a person with dementia. Oops!
Well, now what? We couldn’t take them all, but I didn’t want to argue with him. All I could think of was to change the subject. We worked on the kitchen. We worked on the bathroom. We worked on his books.
Eventually I swung back to clothes again, “Not all of your clothes will fit in the new apartment’s closet. How about if I pick out enough for two weeks? Do you like to dress the way you are dressed today? Jeans, a polo shirt, with an open flannel shirt on top?”
He looked down and thought about it. “Uh … yeah.”
Ah! Now I had his permission to select the right amount. He could agree, because he didn’t have to admit that he was too overwhelmed to decide. Whew!
That job was intense, but I was ready by the time the movers came on Thursday. Late in the afternoon, Carl called to tell me that they were bringing Ira over. I was nearly done unpacking, so I met them at the elevator. Ira walked ahead with Carl’s wife, while Carl and I hung back to discuss some details. As Ira walked in we heard his big voice booming down the hall, “Faaaan-tastic!”
Carl turned to me in astonishment and burst into a silent fist pumping dance in the hall, mouthing “Yes! Yes!”
I gave him my best “I’m so pleased” professional smile, while inside I was doing my own fist pumping dance, mouthing “Yes! Yes!”
We made it. I had gotten Ira to work with me we had made it happen. I could see this concept of a company realistically offering a real and necessary service. A Eureka Moment!
Ten years ago, I was the only employee. I packed, unpacked, marketed, ordered supplies and ran payroll for one. How things have changed. Now there are ten of us, including a Director of Operations, a Director of Marketing, and an administrative assistant. We have forms, spreadsheets, and a blog.
We also have an employee manual, where we collect lessons learned. Ira appears in the manual more times than any other client. The Ira stories explain the importance of listening first, of accepting uncomfortable emotions without trying to “fix” them, and of asking questions a person with dementia can answer.
Ira has passed on now, but I still remember him fondly. My first client, and almost my last client.
Rest in peace, Ira. You got this company off to a good start.
Thanks so much!