A Gift of Independence

Independence is a gift—one that many fail to appreciate, until illness or old age deprives them of their freedom and autonomy. Just ask Minerva or Joan.* Like many others, their lives were touched by Faith in Action. Operated by Tillamook County General Hospital, this coalition of churches, health care agencies and volunteers assists the disabled and chronically ill along Oregon’s rocky north coast.

For these two women, it all began with a simple load of laundry.

At 39, Minerva Kalenandi suffers from multiple illnesses. While most women her age are juggling job, kids and soccer games, simple tasks such as toting a bag of groceries up a flight of stairs can wipe her out for the day.

For the past two years, Faith in Action volunteer Claire Cobb faithfully visited Minerva every Thursday. She helped with weekly chores such as grocery shopping, laundry and taking out the garbage. In exchange, Minerva helped Claire set up a computer. The two—who quickly became close friends—regularly treated themselves to lattes and a movie while the clothes were drying. Because Minerva is mostly homebound, she cherished these hours.

But it wasn’t all coffee and Casablanca. Claire was there for the tough times as well. When Minerva had to travel to Portland for painful medical treatments, her friend was at the ready with a kind word, a heartfelt prayer and her favorite Bible verses. Minerva has since relocated to Portland, but she and Claire still keep in touch by phone.

“I don’t know what I would have done if Claire had not been there,” reflects a grateful Minerva.

Joan and her old dog were living alone in a cluttered rental when her washer and dryer broke down. As a senior in poor health trying to get by on a fixed income, her options seemed nonexistent—until Mary Welle Sims walked into her life.

A devoted Faith in Action volunteer, Mary immediately offered up her own home in lieu of a Laundromat. “What’s a little soap among friends?” Mary laughingly said.

Through the years, the weekly visits became more about love than laundry. And when Joan’s dog, Sam, became sick, Mary and her husband took him to the vet to be euthanized. Afterward, they put his body in the back of their pickup truck and brought him home to be buried in their backyard, where Joan could visit her beloved friend.

Weeks and years of shared dinners, errands and doctor’s visits abruptly ended in December 2003 when Mary had to rush Joan to the hospital one last time. She returned the next day to inquire about Joan’s condition but was told that information was only available to family members. When Mary persisted, the nurse agreed to check Joan’s chart. Apparently, those weekly visits meant a lot, as Joan had listed Mary as next-of-kin. And so the two old friends were able to spend a few more precious hours together before Joan slipped away.

“So many of our volunteers go above and beyond what is required,” says Linda Heyne, the hospital’s Faith in Action program coordinator. “Like Mary, they become friends, confidants, even family to those they care for.”

* Joan is a pseudonym.

October 01, 2004 / Feature