Susan Deixler, A Special Kind of Care

by Amena Hajjar

Yesterday while sitting outside the Dance Palace as the Community Luncheon was coming to a close, Jay, Kip and my 11 year old daughter were being entertained by Kip’s many tricks. Kip is a golden lab who can lay down, roll over, jump onto your lap and give you a happy high five, with one simple word command for each request. As I watched the diners leave, many stopping to pet Kip, one particular interaction touched my heart deeply.

A caregiver who was helping her older adult client walk through the door seemed like an exercise in patience for both. The older adult client was slow, stiff and void of any emotion on her face. Her body moved slowly, and she leaned into her caregiver with complete confidence as her guide. They were both silent as they were approached by Kip. Kip stopped at their feet, sat down and looked up with her big brown eyes. The caregiver asked her client if she wanted to pet the dog, and after seeing something in her face (though honestly I could not read anything) reached for her hand to meet Kip’s cheek.

Instantly, I mean instantly; as soon as her hand touched Kip, her face changed completely. Her body relaxed and she started to pet Kip on her own, finding energy that was not there before. She then started to giggle and talk to Kip. We all sat there silent, watching this tender moment. My daughter remarked how Kip brought this woman happiness.

Betty taking her first swim in a bright red cap. A BIG THANK YOU to California State Parks, Tomales Bay for waiving the parking fees so this program can thrive.

WMSS annual swimming program, An Afternoon at the Beach was born! This program requires the support of volunteers assisting older adults to the beach. Not everyone swims; some relax, many do gentle stretching, and everyone socializes over hot chocolate and tea. An Afternoon at the Beach runs weekly from September – November (see flyer below). (Read More Link here?)

Susan has lived in West Marin for over 50 years and understands the challenges of aging in such a rural area. She herself speaks of the difficulty of not being able to do everything she used to do. “I can’t garden the way I used to. Ladders are not something to be on at my age, so pruning my fruit trees is out of the question.”

Susan uses a term “Fiercely Independent” when talking about her clients and openly states it is what she herself is also suffering from. Susan takes a holistic approach to her job. She and her companion, Peaches, a rescue dog from a client of hers, are trained in the art of animal support. Susan finds that Peaches can often break down barriers, and creates more comfort with new clients. Peaches is a Chihuahua and joins Susan in the office and on home visits.

Susan faces aging challenges with grace as she reassures her clients that aging is a process. “Aging is not a loss, but rather a knowing of what you’re gaining, knowledge and wisdom.” She encourages the expression of gratitude for the gain, focusing on the positive alone can make a difference. “The biggest challenges are clients who refuse help, and suffer unnecessarily. Certainly one uses the resources of friends and neighbors, but eventually that wears thin and with little or no family close by, the ‘Fiercely Independent’ come around to accept help from me.”

“We are a strong community out here in West Marin, it’s not for the faint of heart to age here.”

Susan came to WMSS first as a volunteer 30 years ago, while taking care of her aging neighbor who had no family close by. The experience of watching and participating as a friend facing life’s challenges alone is not a new concept to Susan, but in West Marin it can be a key problem for older adults. With little public transportation available, limited shopping and most doctor appointments, over the hill, Susan has spent the past 14 years as a care manager with WMSS helping to coordinate these appointments for her clients.

She laboriously educates her clients, and their families and by building trust and respect every step of the way. Susan assists in getting home care to older adults who need it; she helps with rides, home delivered meals, emotional support, and resources available to older adults. She delivers medical equipment when they are home bound and checks in with them often, over the phone or by visiting them in their homes. Susan educates clients on how to age in their homes, safely; with their independence and dignity.

Susan and a team of volunteers collect food donations from the Palace Market and WMCS Food Pantry for the weekly community luncheon. The panty table is a buzz with excitement as lunch participants arrive; perusing fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy items and protein. Knowing that older adults are given high protein rich foods, fresh fruit and vegetables that they can choose, for free, were the reasons Susan started the food pantry table.

Susan is what others have said to me, “A West Marin Original.” She is an original in my mind, someone who wears her heart on her sleeve. My favorite word Susan uses is “YES!” with an assured tone and strong commitment. This positive, can do attitude is infectious. Susan is greatly appreciated for her years of dedication to West Marin seniors. Thank you Susan!

Watch the short video “An Afternoon at the Beach” for more on the program.

If you or someone you know is aging and in need of care in the Point Reyes/Inverness area, you can reach Susan at 415-663-8148 x105 or by email;