Alejandro López

 

Listening to the mild-mannered Glenys Carl speak, I got the sense that if somehow she were given the reigns of the country’s armed forces, she would take them and unhesitatingly redirect their efforts, not only toward peace but to the caretaking of the legions of elderly and disabled, together with the multitudes of the lonely, forgotten and despairing amongst us and that our world would be all the better for it. After all, as founder and executive director of Coming Home Connection in Santa Fe, she is already responsible for the daily mobilization of a couple hundred mostly unpaid volunteers who disperse daily to the four directions and who, by six in the morning or midnight are at the bedsides of people who are either too infirm or too elderly to take care of themselves.

 

And that is not all, for the unrelenting Carl is currently pursuing the resources to build and train a corps of veterans free of PTSD who themselves have come home to, at best, a befuddling, precarious existence. She intends to train them to go out and work beside other veterans less fortunate than they—offering their comrades not only the physical assistance that they might need but, just as importantly, helping them to replenish their diminished spirits in the face of often insurmountable difficulties. More than a few lack limbs, while many face incurable diseases and conditions and live lives of quiet desperation.

 

Dividing her time almost equally between administrative duties and direct service to individuals, the indefatigable Carl, who is in bed by nine and up by six, also dreams of establishing a “hospice respite home” where patients can graciously be cared for by volunteers for any length of time so their families might get temporary relief from what are often extremely rigorous regimens of round-the-clock caretaking that can last for many years and sap a family’s strength. In a sweet and endearing voice like that of a child asking for a simple Christmas gift well within anyone’s capacity to give, she makes her dream known to the universe: “I want a hospice respite home really, really badly—just a little one. However, I know that after I’ve managed to build the first one, I’ll want a second little home.”

 

It seems very likely that Carl, who was born and raised in Dale, a tiny hamlet in Wales that sits next to the North Sea, will indeed obtain exactly what she wants, or rather, what she needs for others. She always has, ever since she found herself overwhelmed with the implacable caretaking needs of her beloved son, Scott, who, after a four-year struggle, succumbed to the injuries he sustained during a bungled burglary attempt by a stranger while living in Australia. “At a loss to know what to do by myself in those awful circumstances where, with a sudden change of fortune, we both became illegal aliens in a country that was not ours, I literally took to the streets as just another human being in great need and distributed leaflets openly calling for volunteers to help us. I especially needed support in the caring for my son, who was in a deep coma for four months and severely incapacitated for many years thereafter.”

 

A virtual groundswell of people, young and old, lay and professional, did come to their aid and surrounded them with unceasing and unconditional love, care and devotion. “Curiously,” she says, “our situation, as dire as it was, became the catalyst for the association and bonding, over time, of what amounted to hundreds of people who had been strangers to one another. Enveloped in this tight, caring community utterly transformed my situation and returned to my once-athletic, exuberant son some quality of life for which I will always be grateful. When he awoke from the coma, he, in turn, took the gift of people’s love and gave his caretakers, including myself, a glowing example of a valiant spirit and, toward his assailant, whoever he may have been, an attitude of total forgiveness and loving kindness.”

 

Shortly after Scott’s death and the ensuing wave of grief that overcame her, Carl received an invitation from a friend to come live in Santa Fe. Almost immediately upon her arrival to this “high desert paradise,” she was called back into service by the AIDS epidemic that was raging out of control. “During this period of the early ‘90s,” she said, “I attended to literally scores of individuals who, as they were meeting their end, were overcome by uncontrollable bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. One simply had to do the only thing humanly possible in situations like those and that was to change and comfort them, which I did not mind at all.”

 

Following the worst of the AIDS epidemic, Carl recognized that New Mexico’s population is, on the average, getting older, living in single-person households more and more, while oftentimes foregoing the kind of assistance that people need, particularly when they become ill. “Many elderly who, for example, break a hip, have to return home to an empty house where they fall for a second time and break the hip again,” she said. In the face of this growing crisis, Carl decided to turn her full attention to the elderly and also to those individuals with serious disabilities and illnesses. This often translates into all-day and all-night in-home care every day of the week for months and years on end.

 

When she speaks of all of the things that she has learned from this lifelong experience of caring for others, which she has documented in a riveting book called Hold My Hand, she is quick to say that medical insurance and government agencies, by and large, do not cover or provide the level of care that most individuals need to keep body and soul together. “In general,” she says, “neither can they give what people need most, deep levels of love and understanding. But neither can many families provide this to their own. In a highly mobile society such as ours,” she says, “family members can be spread out across the entire nation and, because of employment, familial or financial constraints, not be able to see one another for years at a time.” This is where her carefully trained army of volunteers comes into the picture and, on a daily basis, helps make the difference between destitution and dignity for hundreds of people.

 

With the help of charitable organizations such as the Con Alma Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, New Mexico Community Foundation, Santa Fe Community Foundation, the Rotary Club, PMS and Ambercare, as well as through the generosity of particular individuals, Carl is able to sustain the Coming Home Connection. She does pointed outreach to high school seniors and first-year college students at Santa Fe Community College, where she gets most of her volunteers. Following the recruitment and selection process, Carl, a nurse herself, personally trains the volunteers in the delivery of quality care to patients. In exchange, the volunteers gain real-life experience, which often opens up a career track for them and always leaves them changed human beings—more aware, sensitive and responsive to the needs of marginalized people.

 

Carl is the first to say that without the will and effort of the many volunteers that step forward, her work would come to naught. She could also say the same about the partnerships and collaborations her organization enjoys with Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, which supplements the care her volunteers provide and with Kitchen Angels, whose heroic personnel deliver meals to homebound individuals throughout a vast region. Without the coordinated services of these agencies, many people would find themselves forced to leave the comfort and security of their beloved homes and would have to resign themselves to living in a state-run home for the elderly. This would rob them of the warmth, beauty and comfort of their home, neighborhood and community.

 

New Mexico is certainly fortunate to have someone like Glenys Carl, who has the rare ability to focus on each and every person she encounters, as we grow old and disabled. Carl gives her unbridled love and attention and gently holds our hand.

 

Anyone interested in volunteering may call 505.988.2468. Carl’s book, Hold My Hand, a Mother’s Journey, is available through Amazon or from the offices of Coming Home Connection. Gifts or donations may be made to Coming Home Connection, Visit

www.cominghomeconnection.org

 

 

 

 

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