Hard-learned Lessons Pay Off for Other Elders

If you like stories about older adults helping other older adults, you will love this one. Let me introduce you to the Cookie Lady.

Jeanette Cram, 78, was thrust into the national spotlight back in the 1990s, when she began baking and sending cookies to troops overseas. She inspired hundreds of volunteers and passionate bakers to join her newly formed “Treat the Troops” organization and was honored by President George W. Bush at the White House, as well as appearing on The Montel Williams Show and with Martha Stewart. 

Cram continued to inspire others from her Hilton Head, S.C., home even after losing her husband to cancer a few years ago. But then, this past April, her world came crumbling down when she fractured her ankle while cooking. In continuous pain, the admittedly stubborn Cram refused care at a nearby rehab facility and remained on her couch for hours, day after day. She even dismissed her cousin who visited for a few days in the hopes that she could act as a caregiver to Cram.

Resistant to Help

Unable to bake, the “extremely independent” Cram went into a deep depression, lost her will to live and rebuffed every opportunity for help. It was four months after the fall before her family finally convinced her to call Mark Piegza, owner of SYNERGY HomeCare of the Lowcountry. Then things began to turn around, albeit slowly. Still not happy with needing assistance, Cram did not immediately accept all of the caregivers Piegza had assigned to her.

“Since my children don’t live nearby, it was important to find a caregiver who provided me with both support and companionship,” Cram said. “There wasn’t anything wrong with the first caregivers as people or as professionals, but it just wasn’t the right fit.”

Then Mark sent Julia.

“At one of the lowest points in my life, Julia was there to save me,” Cram said. “She challenged me both physically and mentally, and helped me get to a point where I was able to move around the house again. I could not be more thankful for the help that she and SYNERGY HomeCare were able to provide.”

‘Isolating yourself when you’re in need is extremely dangerous and will only lead to despair.’

Julia Marshall came to the United States in 1988 from El Salvador, raised her family in New York and later had to spend significant time back in El Salvador, where she had been unable to find quality care for her ailing mother. That experience spurred her to help others and obtain a CNA license. Initially she worked in a Long Island assisted living facility, before her family moved to South Carolina to be closer to her husband’s mother. 

“I was very happy to join SYNERGY HomeCare,” Marshall said. “The owners Mark and Bob [Risk] are really nice people. They were so flexible with the hours that it was good for me. I loved working with Jeanette. She is a wonderful person and I’m so happy that she is doing so well now. Even though I’m not with her for work, we still talk often. We are now good friends.”

“Julia is an amazing person, who is exceptionally kind and compassionate,” Piegza said. “She has a warm smile and a very gentle manner that puts people at ease immediately. Her relationship with Jeanette was incredible to witness, and I could see why she was able to restore Jeanette’s will to live.”

Tips for Others in Similar Straits

Almost a year later, Cram is back baking and hopes that others in her situation can learn from her. She offered some useful tips for those who may be experiencing similar challenges:

Don’t be afraid to spend on yourself: “As a woman who had been used to taking care of herself, I was initially reluctant to accept extra help. I’ve also always considered myself a frugal person, so I did not see the value in spending the extra money on a caregiver. That was wrong.”

Make sure your caregiver is the right fit:  “You may have to go through a few different caregivers. SYNERGY HomeCare assured me that if our personalities or interests did not align, they would be able to find a different caregiver. That is how I met Julia.”

You are not a burden: “I think it is especially important to remind seniors in the same position that they are not a burden. Isolating yourself when you’re in need is extremely dangerous and will only lead to despair. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, because a little bit can go an exceptionally long way. Deciding to call SYNERGY HomeCare was one of the best decisions I could have made, and I owe my recovery to them.”

Julia, Mark, Bob and all of us at SYNERGY HomeCare are thrilled that you did. Welcome back, Jeanette!

Charlie Young is the CEO of SYNERGY HomeCare, which is headquartered in Gilbert, Ariz.

Photo (top): Mark Piegza and Julia Marshall pose with Jeanette Cram.

 Courtesy SYNERGY HomeCare