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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Meet CSA Spotlight, Sue Kalons

CSA Spotlight“Mom, YOU ARE A SENIOR, and taking a class to work with seniors?” That was my younger son’s reaction to my taking the course to become a Certified Senior Advisor—and rightfully so, I suppose. I’m a 66-year old wife, mother of two sons, aged 43 and 40, Grandmother of 6, married for 46 years. Well, to one and all, I think that from a child, I was being “prepped” to be a CSA!

Picture a little girl with no one to play with walking up the street to sit on the steps with an elderly blind man. Watch the child go a little farther up the street to see if the elderly couple in the corner house are sitting on their front porch. There they are…let’s go sit and chat with them for a while. Another day comes and is spent with another older couple who have no children. That visit becomes a regular weekly event. The little girl “adopts” these folks as her “Aunt” and “Uncle”. Then there is “Nana”…the elderly lady next door. She takes a cheerful little lass to church events and “adopts” her as a grandchild.

Fast forward about 10 years. The little girl is now in high school, volunteering at a local sanitarium, and thoroughly enjoying afternoons with a dear little 90-something lady who tells stories of growing up in Nebraska in the late 1800's. The young girl loves it when her duties take her to “Miss B’s” room.

Move on a few more years. The teenager has now become a young wife and mother of a 6-month old son. Her beloved father-in-law, in his late seventies, starts having strokes. Dutifully, the young mother begins what will become several years of intermittent caregiving…getting middle-of-the-night phone calls to come help. Grandaddy has to go to the hospital. Mother, husband, and little boy—and eventually a second baby boy make the drive with bottles, diapers, and clothing for an indefinite stay to be with Gramma while Grandaddy is in the hospital, and then to be there to help when he comes home again.

That’s how it all started. During this time, my own dear father developed a chronic lung disease that constantly put him in and out of the hospital. As my mother didn’t drive, I was the chauffer with daily trips from one end of the county to the other and back again to pick up Mom, go down-county to the hospital, take her home, and eventually get home to my family. I had little support, absolutely no respite, and not one of our friends who really knew what I was going through! They cared, they listened, but they just didn’t understand. My husband and I came into our parents’ lives when they were older, so we became caregivers at an early age. Many of our friends have recently or are currently going through what we went through—and I do understand!

Dear Grandaddy mercifully passes away in his sleep, and all is quiet for a short time. Then it begins again—my own sweet Dad is sick. He cannot drive, he needs down-county visits to the doctor and periodic stays in the hospital. We sell our little townhome and move in next door to Mom and Dad to help care for both of them. Trying to hold down an office job becomes an impossibility as I have to take too much time off to help my Mom with Dad. Everything comes to a crushing climax the day the first Gulf War begins. My oldest son is on a tank crew getting ready to invade Kuwait, and my Dad’s battle with weakened lungs comes to an end. Did I mention that at this point my Mom is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease and my Mother-in-law has severe heart issues, is a diabetic, and stays with us part-time?

We buried Dad 2 days later. That night, my husband and I dropped into bed, hoping for blessed sleep. Oh no…it’s that dreaded middle-of-the-night sound of a ringing telephone. Gramma’s neighbor is calling to say that she called him and is very ill—come quickly. And we do. She’s in heart failure and transported to the hospital nearby. I cannot watch her…I just watched my own father pass 3 days ago. Miraculously, the following week, after triple bypass surgery, Gramma has resurrected and will be staying with us for the next 3 months as she recovers. Interesting – Gramma with us, Mom next door, both needing 24/7 attention.

Overall, for 34 years, I cared for 2 sets of parents, with the caregiving duties overlapping two ill parents at a time. Gramma ended up living with us for her last year and passed away in our home. My own dear Mom remained next door for 5 years and then spent her final 8 years in an assisted living/dementia-care home. During that time, I suffered breast cancer and had a mastectomy, got my real estate license, became president of the local Women’s Council of Realtors®, went to Maryland Association of Realtors® Leadership Academy, won the 2010 Jane Henderson Education Award and 2011 Community Service Award from the local real estate association.

In my pursuit to work with seniors, as an active Realtor®, one of my designations—Seniors Real Estate Specialist—got me curious as to what else was “out there” that might help me specialize in working with the senior population. That’s when, as I searched the internet, I found the Society of Certified Senior Advisors. I’d hit “paydirt”…that’s what I needed. I scoured the SCSA website, left my contact information, and was contacted the beginning of 2013 by an SCSA staff member. What an answer to prayer!...that’s another story for another day.

So here I am on December 5, 2013, one surgery and recovery time later, an inability to access some of the online lectures for 5 weeks, the kindness of another SCSA staff member to send me the lectures on CD, having to postpone my exam date twice, some more health issues, and recovering from a car accident 2 weeks prior, walking out of the PearsonVue testing center in Hagerstown, MD, with tears, a grateful heart, and a “Congratulations, you have passed your CSA Exam” letter in hand! When I called my younger son to tell him I’d passed, he laughed and said, “Mom, we think it’s great that you ARE a senior who’s been through so much, getting educated to work with seniors!...You have such stories to tell.”

Currently, I volunteer at the local senior center and co-lead a Caregiver Support Group at my church. With some new avenues presenting themselves, planning how and where to best use what I’ve learned since becoming a CSA (Certified Senior Advisor) is my top priority as 2014 begins. Bottom line is, I love seniors. My passion is to see that they have an advocate, are well-cared for, that their caregivers are equipped to walk the journey, having the resources and support that I never knew. Mine was trial and error, laughter and tears. And blessedly, my only regret is that I never got my Dad back to the zoo to see the monkeys before he died!

I am so very thankful for the opportunity to be able to combine all I’ve experienced along with the professional insight that I’ve gained from taking the CSA course of study. I understand it from both sides now and look forward to taking the good news that someone cares, someone is here to listen, help, and walk the journey with both seniors and their caregivers.

Sue Marie Kalons, Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
Referral Real Estate Professional

Blog Posting Provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors