Written November 2016 by Kim Lee
Each night before my husband Kevin and I fall asleep, which these days seems to be earlier and earlier, we take a minute to remind ourselves how truly blessed our family is. Throughout the year, and not only at Thanksgiving, we affirm all those things for which we are thankful and eternally grateful, out loud and to each other. At the top of our list is the health and wellness of our children. Knowing that our girls are physically healthy and emotionally happy is, as it would be for any parent, more than comforting. However, we also realize that this could change, at any time and without any warning.
It is for this reason that I was so emotionally struck by a recent obituary chronicling the life of Mr. Edward Foster. In the obituary, his family recounted his youth as a soccer player, his graduation from Classical High School in 1974, and his time spent serving our country as a member of the United States Air Force stationed in Germany. His life seemed typical and contented. Then I began to read the second paragraph.
According to Mr. Foster’s obituary, life took a sudden and dramatic turn, sadly, when mental illness took control. “Spending the majority of his adult years walking through Indian Orchard a well-known, if unwanted presence there. A promising life lost to the disease.” The obituary explains that despite his family’s attempts to find the help they desperately wanted for him and which he critically needed, it wasn’t until a court ordered psychiatric evaluation and subsequent prescribed medication that Mr. Foster finally found refuge in a group home where he was “safe, cared for and cared about.” Stabilized and ready for independent living, he then moved into his own apartment where the essential services for healthy emotional living were provided through CHD’s Community Based Flexible Supports (CBFS) program. Together, the people of CHD worked to provide a life for Ed, a life that now had purpose. The friendship, warmth and genuine compassion offered to Ed made him feel human.
The goal of Community Based Flexible Supports is to support adults with chronic and persistent mental illness to be successful in the community. Through CBFS, CHD works with each individual to find their highest level of functioning. For some people, this means living in one of our group homes or breaking the cycle of psychiatric hospital admissions. Other people live on their own with a level of support that allows them to be independent. Still others reach a point where they no longer need to receive services. All of this is accomplished with a focus on community based work, and on creating strong therapeutic relationships. Eighty percent of our work is with clients in their communities. We assist participants in all aspects of daily living while also providing clinical support in our Holyoke and Springfield offices.
Candace Pennington, Program Manager, CHD’s Adult Mental Health, tells me that in her experience “so very often when our program participants who are dying from cancer have reached their end of life, I don’t know what it is, but when they are saying goodbye, it is as if their mental illness disappears. We have heartfelt conversations. They will ask us to stay with them, they thank us. We reminisce about trips we have taken them on, or activities we have done together. It is very hard for all us because we are not just saying goodbye to a client, but instead, a member of our family.”
Jeffrey Chapell, the Program’s Supervisor, adds that “to have been recognized in his obituary for the impact our programming had in the life of this vulnerable man, is humbling. While we know the breadth and scope of our work is not always popular or welcomed in neighborhoods, we change lives.”
Yes, we change lives of the young, the old and thousands in between. Oh sure, there are similar services and programs offered, so what makes CHD different? It’s our approach to the work we do. At the core of the life-changing services we provide is the simple belief that there is both an easy way and a right way – and we always choose right. And that is important because as a parent, wife, sister and friend, I would want to know that if anyone I knew, loved or cared deeply about needed the support of services through an organization in order to live a life that was productive and meaningful, that they would be treated with respect, dignity and profound kindness.
On October 7, Edward J. Foster died from lung cancer. He was 58 years old. He was loved. He was cared for. He was cared about. And this Thanksgiving, it will be one of many things for which I am truly thankful.
Kimberley A. Lee
VP of Development