Glancing back, it is often surprising to realize how life’s journey can turn on simple, but critical, events. One such event happened for Donna Randall, 59, while she was employed in the Institutional Relations office at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.
“My boss there was very much in favour of me pursuing my degree, and as my studies progressed, he gave me new responsibilities commensurate with my experience,” says Donna. “One that I loved was to research and interview people on campus and write profile articles about them. These people ranged from students, to departmental staff, professors and researchers. I wrote many profiles, and have in my collection some key thank you notes from my subjects. I have to say these experiences helped me boost my writing skills and abilities, while increasing the confidence level and skills it takes to write effective articles about people from various walks of life.”
Those skills would be put to good use over the next three-plus decades as Donna embarked on her career path. Her love of language started at an early age as she grew up in the home built primarily by her parents, and shared with her three brothers.
“My parents really valued education and had a strong interest in language. We all learned to banter and throw barbs at one another using more expressive language, which is part of what sent all of us into interests in reading and writing.”
After obtaining her BA in English Literature from Laurier and completing her MA and some PhD courses on English Language and Rhetoric at Waterloo, Donna started teaching courses. One of her students talked about doing volunteer work with Planned Parenthood and Donna immediately contacted them about volunteering for them herself. In short order, she became their first-ever sexuality educator and then executive director for 10 years.
At the same time, she served as the part-time director of Planned Parenthood Ontario, where she revamped and updated all their materials with the help of others.
“At the time, our funding was in jeopardy for a sexual education phone line and we were successful in keeping it going by appealing to the Bill Davis Conservative government,” recalls Donna. “This was a very successful time of doing some great work and it gave me plenty of opportunities to write and be in the media on television, radio and so on.”
Around 15 years ago, Donna moved to Vancouver Island with a partner who had just landed a job at the University of Victoria. The relationship didn’t last, but she decided to stay on the west coast anyway. Three days after arriving in BC, Donna had a job interview for a fundraising position with the University of Victoria.
“I didn’t get the job, an internal candidate did, but I got a really neat introduction to all sorts of people in the fundraising and charitable sectors, which led to a volunteer opportunity with the Victoria Foundation. From there, I landed a job as the first fundraiser at the Prostate Center in Victoria. While there, I found out that as a result of prostate cancer, men often have sexual challenges. I was interested in how couples overcame these challenges. We formed information groups, sometimes just the women, sometimes couples, sometimes just the men to help couples get through those difficult times.”
While there, Donna met a prostate cancer survivor named, Philippe, who is now her husband. They volunteered together for years, speaking to other cancer survivors to help with their difficulties. Along the way, Donna landed other jobs, often involving fundraising, where she got to put her writing skills to use. Eventually, she hit upon the idea of starting her own business to help others with the often unwanted task of fundraising.
“The emphasis of my business started out helping smaller organizations,” says Donna. “The fundraising component winds through my entire life. I have always wanted to help all these organizations to help others. It was not like Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, but rather helping those with disposable income to locate others they could help. A real win-win scenario. I thought if I could make my proposal stand out by being well-written, the chances were far better they would receive their funding. I got some nice feedback by telling stories about the organizations and it helped me prove my education had been worthwhile.”
While going through the normal aging process, Donna has become passionate about two causes, and she is attempting to use what she knows to help others experiencing similar issues. The first issue she faced head on is menopause. After 10 years of jotting down notes and thoughts, Donna has completed a book entitled, Menopause or Lunacy: That is the Question. According to her website, “(The book) meshes menopause with both trauma and laughter, and women want it, because few of us have a symptom-free menopause. Whether you’ve already been there, are there, feel crazy and don’t know why, know you will one day be there, or know and love someone who is losing it for no apparent reason, this is book is for you… honest!”
The other cause close to Donna’s heart is issues involving care for aging parents. After helping her brother care for her own mother, who struggled with dementia, Donna and Philippe turned their attention to his aging mother. Years before, she had told them she would move into a suite in her home while they moved in to help her remain there and they agreed to do so.
Donna knew they had to do this right, so when she spoke to lawyers, they mentioned getting a family caregiving agreement. She was told they didn’t have one and that there was nothing worthwhile on the internet. Donna says, “I knew if we asked the lawyers to do it they would charge us a lot of money. I told them I will write the agreement! When I finished I handed it to the lawyers like I was handing in a term project only to discover they liked it. We then sat down with Philippe’s mother and it was really good to see how well it all worked and allowed us to address things that are not always easy to talk about. We told her we had to fill out the form, so that helped us get through the sticky parts, like incontinence.”
The lawyers told Donna the agreement she wrote was marketable, so she decided to follow their advice after having the Family Caregiving Network Society (now Family Caregivers of British Columbia) help her clean it up with a few more changes.
“It is starting to look more onerous than I had first anticipated, but if we knew it was going to be hard we would never start. I see it working this way: Usually there comes a point where family members are talking about the next stage in a senior’s life. They are struggling to stay in the home and they feel they have to do something about it. These types of agreements are not common yet, so the 50+ children will be introducing these to their elderly parents. Once most people are familiar with this agreement, lawyers and financial planners would want these. They start with this, then the conversation begins. They often have wills and powers of attorney, but they realize there is a gap when it comes to the next stage of life.”
“Even with someone like Philippe’s mom, who had talked about this for 10 years, it can still be difficult to pinpoint the correct time to have the discussion, which speaks to how important this is.”
Donna’s hope is that once our generation does this for their elderly parents, they will quickly realize they can do it for themselves as well, to make things easier on their children. She says, “The frightening part is that nothing is discussed and suddenly one family member has something difficult thrust upon them when something happens to an elderly parent. There can be a much better ending to these stories with a little planning.”
For Donna, it is as if her whole life has been an elaborate plan to get to this moment.
For more information or to read her blog, check out Donna’s website at caregivingessentials.com or for her book on menopause, visit menopauseorlunacy.com
SEPTEMBER 2015 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE
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