Liza Glynn experienced a moment of personal and physical freedom last week, when she and Steve Ward, one of her caregivers, lunched at Alpine Restaurant at the Villa Eyrie Resort.
The 54-year-old was 32 when doctors diagnosed her with multiple sclerosis in July 1998. MS is a neurological disease that disrupts the communication between brain and the rest of the body by eating away the protective sheath (myelin) covering nerve fibres. Twenty-three year later, the mother of a 17-year-old son finds herself paralyzed from the neck down, dependent on a wheel chair for mobility and confined to her Brentwood Bay home for the last 10 months until Friday’s lunch made possible by GAIN Group as part of a Christmas donation to nominated caregivers.
“I haven’t been in a restaurant for more than a year, and this just felt like being liberated,” she said of the experience. It was also a moment to savour her personal relationship with Ward and pay tribute to individuals who care for differently-abled people in the community, far from the spotlight.
“Some are seldom seen by the citizens in the larger community, who might not even know they’re there,” she said.
Ward started to help Glynn five years ago, first as a volunteer, then as one of two paid live-in caregivers, who stay with Glynn 24-7 for several days a week during their respective shifts. But Ward, who has a professional background in engineering and technology, sees his time with Glynn as something far more than a job. While his previous employments all met some sort of a personal need of his own, his various tasks as caregiver such as driving Glynn to medical appointments, shopping for groceries and handling her finances are indispensable.
“Of the jobs that I have had in my life, this is without question, by a very large margin the most useful job that I have ever done,” said Ward, adding that he has never been more motivated in his work despite the high emotional, mental and physical toll.
“I started as a volunteer and I am not doing this for the job. It’s a really important that it needs to be done. So whatever needs to be done, I’ll do it.”
This type of commitment from Ward has helped Glynn participate in the life of her son, watching him play baseball from the sidelines, and attend church, through which Glynn and Ward had initially connected.
“It makes my world a lot bigger,” she said.
Along this journey, they have developed a deep ability to read each other.
“We generally understand, what it is we are trying to do for each other to get through whatever the particular activity is,” said Ward. “I would say that the ability to know what the other person is thinking or doing without actually having to say anything is probably the most surprising thing for me. I am a lifelong bachelor and I never had anybody reading my mind before.”
In many ways, Glynn and Ward evoke the French movie The Intouchables, which tells the story of a quadriplegic and his caregiver who hails from a Parisian Banlieue. While the comparisons only go so far, Glynn sees the real-life parallels that both have come from different backgrounds.
“I strongly believe that it was in God’s hands that we met and I don’t think of him as a caregiver,” said Glynn. “I think of him as an extended family.”
If Ward has helped Glynn navigate the world, she has helped Ward grow in unexpected ways. Ward said he probably would not have started to work in caregiving had he not met Glynn and had a “spiritual awakening” that made him see the world in a less mechanical, more humanistic way.
“Whatever challenges Liza has faced, this has probably made more of a human out of me than I was before,” he said. “I am a lot more compassionate and patient and understanding.”
Glynn’s feeling of liberation amidst stunning scenery and opulent servings flows directly from it.
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