Stretching the Boundaries of Our Job has its Rewards

Boundaries are frequent topics of conversation in the two professional groups to which we belong: the American Association of Daily Money Managers (AADMM) and the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO).  While adhering to a strict Code of Ethics, we  have concluded that boundaries have to be defined based on each client’s situation.

We do have limits to what we will do for clients. For instance, we don’t maintain appointment books, do residential organizing, or arrange for medical care.  As part of our team building, we will encourage our clients to hire professional residential organizers, Geriatric Care Managers or other professionals who are better suited to a particular job.  There are, however, times when these boundaries do get broken.

A boundary issue that gets a lot of attention in NAPO and AADMM is the question of how much of ourselves do we share with our clients?  The helping relationship with a client differs from the relationship with friends, families and colleagues, so how much do we tell our clients about ourselves: our lives, our health, our families?

Finally, how much should we allow our clients to share an experience with us – for example, do we accept an invitation to join them for lunch, dinner, or an opera?

We feel that it often becomes necessary to stretch the boundaries beyond that of financial organizing and daily money management to help clients fully regain their life potential.  What follows is a fascinating case that not only pushed the boundaries of our traditional financial organizing roles, but gave Gideon great personal enjoyment and has professionally become one of our success stories.

A Client's Story:  Stretching the Boundaries of Our Job Has Its Rewards

Our brochure had been lying in an attorney’s desk drawer for over a year when it occurred to him that he might have a client that we could help with her filing. When we met with him in his office, he explained that his client, Laura, suffered from progressive macular degeneration and it had begun to take its toll on her ability to handle paperwork which she had in the past done with ease.   She needed larger print on her folder labels so she could read them.  We arranged to meet Laura at her apartment to do an assessment.

Team building is one of the many important things we do, but when we got to Laura’s apartment, it was immediately clear that her team was in place.  We were greeted not only by Laura who was then 85 years old, but by her attorney, his associate, her banker and the banker’s associate. We learned later that she also had a slate of attending physicians as she had been battling lung cancer for five years.  We were prepared for the loss of sight, but we were not prepared fully for the severe stutter that made communication dramatically more difficult.  Laura remained fairly quiet during the conversation, somewhat dominated by her team, as well as her own diffidence.

Given the location of the apartment and Rebecca’s strong organizational and filing skills we had assumed that she would take on the client.  As we talked and were shown around the apartment, Gideon noticed some highly amusing signs, some quite provocative, printed or hand made, in French.  So, he asked Laura in French where they came from.  Her face lit up as she responded in French that she had spent much of her childhood in France and had over the 70 years since remained in close contact with her friends.  Not only did Laura become effusive, but it became clear that she stuttered far less in French then in English.  Gideon, with his fluent French, was clearly the appropriate person to work with her. Thus began a relationship and a friendship which is now six years old.

More than a labeling job, the initial work turned out to be a purging of old unneeded paid bills and documents so important files could be easily accessed.  In the process of working with Laura on this project, Gideon found that the loss of sight and the continued treatments for lung cancer had led to far greater changes in Laura’s life than merely the diminished capacity to manage paperwork.  The loss had seriously altered her social, familial, travel and artistic involvements that previously had played such a major role in her life.  Since she could not see very well, Laura had decided that any of the experiences she had had in the past would not be the same, and that people whom she loved would look at her differently.

So, given the uniqueness of this case, Gideon took on a role that she called that of her “paid son.”  While addressing the necessary financial organizing, philanthropic giving, tax and health insurance issues, Gideon, together with Laura, began exploring in greater depth, the resources that could enhance her visual life e.g.—National Association for Visually Handicapped, Lighthouse International, and The Jewish Guild for the Blind.  Among other changes, Laura can now read using a large screen magnifier.

Even more importantly, with Gideon’s help, Laura began venturing back to some of the activities in her life that had given her so much pleasure in the past.  It began with dinners out, then several trips to the Algonquin for dinner and a cabaret show performed by an old friend.  Cars were ordered; Gideon arranged front row seats and accompanied her to the events.  Next they got front row seats to the opera and the theatre.  Then Gideon urged her to go with her aide on her first trip in several years to the family compound in Vermont and helped her plan the trip .  Finally Laura and Gideon took a trip to a theatre festival in Pennsylvania to see her nephew, a professional actor, perform the lead in a musical.

We flash forward six years.  Now, at almost 92 she needs 24-hour care.  Her vision has deteriorated further, she has survived various falls and a small stroke leading to life-threatening pneumonia.  But that has not stopped her one bit.  She traveled with her aide to Boston for a wedding, attends college affairs in New York City , travels regularly to Princeton to see her older cousin and recently returned from a trip out of town with Gideon to see her nephew do King Lear.

We began with a financial organizing job which Gideon continues to do.  Gideon brought in a Geriatric Care Manager to help hire home health aides and he arranged for an accountant to handle the payroll.  However, to help Laura regain her life, it was clear that far more had to be done.  Navigating the journey between the boundaries has yielded a wonderfully rewarding experience for both Gideon and Laura.

With Laura and some of our other clients traditional boundaries have to be redrawn if we really believe that our job is “Life Keeping, Not Just Bookkeeping.”

August 2008 - FEATURE
Share this with others: