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Friday, September 23, 2011

Aunt Pearl – Benevolent Giving at its Best

When my Aunt Pearl lost her husband, Murray, she was devastated. She sat on her recliner in front of the TV for too many hours each day and she became very close with the ladies of QVC. In the few years following Murray’s death, my Aunt Pearl spent far too much on her QVC purchases. She bought knick-knacks and clothing, but mostly jewelry. Soon, her jewelry box filled with gemstone rings and necklaces.

We were all relieved when Aunt Pearl came out of mourning after a few years and stopped treating her pain with TV purchases. Pearl had had her share of trouble. Born with a twisted leg and later afflicted by polio, she was a mama’s girl through-and-through. Her first marriage didn’t go well. In her world, it was unheard of for a young couple to divorce, but Pearl had enough self respect not to be taken advantage of by a man who turned out to be first of all, mean-spirited, and secondly, gay and using her for cover.

When Aunt Pearl married for the second and final time, it was for love – the kind of love that sends you into years of mourning and ridiculous TV shopping when you lose your partner. Murray was ornery and picky, but man did he love my Aunt Pearl, and she him. They never had children. Instead they treated all their nieces and nephews, including my mother, as their own, and all of us kids as cherished grandchildren.

Here’s where the link to Benevolent comes in (thanks for bearing with me)… As Pearl neared the end of her life, she was confined to her home more and more. She required home health care and had a series of women who came in and out of her house to care for her. Throughout it all, Aunt Pearl was completely in control – mentally and emotionally. Slowly, though, things started to disappear from her home. First we noticed that her jewelry was disappearing, piece by piece, then that her kitchen was more and more empty of pots and pans and such, then that a small TV was no longer in the kitchen, and then that Pearl’s money was slipping through her fingers at a higher rate than we would have thought likely.

We worried that someone was stealing from Pearl, that her caretakers were pocketing grocery money and making off with her possessions. Or perhaps that it was the medical transit drivers, or the grocery delivery people, or anyone else who might have come into or out of her home. With each realization, we (ok, my mom) asked Aunt Pearl if she knew where her possessions had gone.

Time and time again, Pearl would light up at this question and share a story of woe or opportunity that one of her caretakers or one of her caretakers’ children or spouses had faced. She would explain one woman’s desire to become a nurse, another’s problem with an overdue bill for a car repair, another one’s problem with school clothes for her daughter. Each time, Pearl explained how she had decided to help the person out in the particular situation they were facing. Sometimes, she was giving her money away, other times, things she owned – when she thought that her gifts could make a difference, make someone happy, make progress possible.

Years later, when Pearl was finally in her last days, it all came back to her as Claudette– the woman who wanted to become a nurse and needed help paying the nursing school tuition – now an experienced nurse, helped Pearl and my mom navigate through the hospitals, doctors, and decisions facing them. In the hospital stays, she came to Pearl’s side every day when her shift ended. Claudette, to whom Pearl had given direct help, brought Pearl’s gift full circle as she helped Pearl exit her life with dignity and with as little stress as possible.

I’ve learned a great deal about the power of personal connection and the right help at the right time over the course of my life and my career, but perhaps no one taught me more than Aunt Pearl. At Benevolent, we’ll strive to live up to Pearl’s legacy every day and introduce others to opportunities to give and share the way Pearl did.

- megan kashner, Benevolent Founder & CEO