Today’s installment of The Caregiver Series combines two of my great passions: caregiving and entrepreneurialism.

I first heard about Liz Emery and her business, Liz & Ett, in an article by former CNN anchor Daryn Kagan that ran in my local paper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  (I couldn’t find the link to the Atlanta version, but this is the same story in another paper.)

I barely made it through the first part of the story without getting teary-eyed.

lizandett_photo1_2008Liz was a medical student when her grandmother had a stroke.  She left school to provide full-time care for one, and then the other grandmother, and it was in and through this experience that she found her calling – functional fashion.

As she describes on her website:

While caring for her grandmothers, Liz Emery saw a great need for stylish apparel/accessories adapted to the needs of women with limited mobility.  She began designing fashionable and functional options for aging loved ones, and established Liz & Ett™ (a trademark of Chic Adaptive Essentials, LLC) in her grandmothers’ memory.  Liz is passionate about maintaining dignity and style at all stages of life, especially in the face of health challenges.

If you have ever cared for someone who is terminally or chronically ill, I don’t have to ask whether or not that last sentence resonates with you.

I reached out to Liz immediately and asked if she would offer up some of her thoughts in a guest blog.  She replied and, not surprisingly, radiates warmth and kindness even through the sometimes impersonal medium of email.

I am so moved by Liz’s story on so many levels.  First, that she would leave a “promising career” behind to care for aging grandparents.  Second, that she had the courage to walk away from a safe profession and become an entrepreneur.  And, finally, anyone who dedicates their time and talent to restoring dignity to those the rest of the world would rather not see …

…goodness, me, I am getting all choked up again.

LizandEtt_manicure 2009

I think I’ll hand it over to Liz.

“Make it Work” – A Guest Post by Liz Emrey

As the new season of Project Runway kicks off tonight, I can hear Tim Gunn’s famous words of advice to the competing designers reverberating around the room:  “Make It Work!”  With just hours left on the clock before the show begins, when plans aren’t going the right way, and exhaustion has set in, it is crunch time in the studio.  It’s time to dig deep, be resourceful, and send your model down the runway clothed in SOMETHING.

His mantra takes me right back to my experience several years ago.  But instead of being in a design studio at Parson’s, I’m actually on our family’s sun porch.  We’ve converted it to a homecare hospice suite for my maternal grandmother, my beloved Nanny, and I’m in trenches of caregiving.  I’m physically and emotionally drained from what I call a ‘labor of love’ and the day isn’t going according to plan.  (Of course, when is there a day that does in the life of a caregiver?!).   We’re struggling to dress Nanny now that her mobility is increasingly more limited, and our homecare aide says that she’s always just cut her client’s clothes up the back.  Our hospice nurse offers us a hospital gown as an alternative.  My mom and I look at each other.  I get the scissors.  It’s a difficult moment, having to take shears to Nanny’s favorite pieces, but who wants to die at home feeling like they’re in a hospital?  Nanny loved wearing her feminine (yes, sexy!) nighties, so we did what we had to do:  we made it work.

Liz Emery_Caregiving_Three Generations_summer 2009

Fast forward a few months, and I’m at my paternal grandmother’s bedside.  Her mobility is now limited as her health declines, and the aide helping us says, that here, they always just put button-up blouses on backwards.  But even as my Grandma is asleep, she keeps pulling at the neckline.  I realize that besides feeling that it’s on the wrong way, the label is bothering her!  Once again:  I get the scissors, cut the label out, and we make it work.

Sitting at my grandmother’s bedside, thinking about the limited options we had when caring for both her and Nanny, it completely clicked.  We still needed to send our model down the runway in SOMETHING—they had to be dressed!—but it wasn’t worth the struggle, indignity, and emotional toll of slitting clothes or wearing tops backwards.  There needed to be a better way to dress a loved one with limited mobility at this stage of life.  I wanted to make it work, but in an entirely different way.  I wanted dressing to be about comfort, dignity, and style!  I wanted this several-times-a-day activity to be easy on our aging loved ones and their caregivers.  And (as a med-student-turned-caregiver) I wanted healthcare providers to have the access they needed to do an exam, or administer treatment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now, my Nanny was no stranger to hardship.  But when it came to simple daily tasks, like parking the car in a tight spot, she’d always say “Why Struggle?” and she was right.  Don’t bother; make it easy on yourself and just take the wide-open parking spot two cars over.  And so I took her message to heart.

I created a tunic that is goes on easily from the front, and wraps to secure on each shoulder.  It’s long enough to be worn without pants; has hidden access points up the arms for taking vitals or starting an IV; and has ‘sleeve gloves’ for comfort and warmth.  It’s called the “Why Struggle? Tunic” and is dedicated to my grandmothers, who, in the last months of their lives showed me tremendous courage, humor, strength, trust, and love.

mHealth Summit Exhibit_Dec 2012

Caregivers and designers, it turns out, have a lot in common.  Both inject love into their work; both must be resourceful and creative; and both dig deep when the fuse is burning at both ends.  Nonetheless, transitioning from a caregiver to a designer has involved a steep learning curve and entrepreneurship has its own set of challenges.  I often play a voicemail recording of my Nanny that I’ve saved from years before her stroke, as a reminder to ‘keep at it,’ and which always makes me laugh:

“Darling, you know what they say:  when you fall down FIVE times … get up FOUR.”

“Or is it ‘fall down FOUR, get up FIVE ….?’”

“Well, it really doesn’t matter.  Either way, I want you to know that I LOVE YOU.”

And with that, I’m inspired to, as Tim Gunn would say, “carry on!”

*******

See?  I told you?

Now do me a favor, please, and tell anyone you think might be interested in knowing more about Liz and her work about what’s she’s up to at Liz & Ett.  And visit her website at http://www.lizandett.com to see her beautiful pieces.  Look for her Why Struggle? Tunic to debut this spring!

5 Responses to “The Caregiver Series : “Make It Work””

  1. on 28 Jan 2013 at 9:46 amK

    This is fabulous! LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT! In caregiving for my 2 grandmothers I have often needed something like this. Will definitely buy this for my 1 grandmother in nursing home with advanced Alzheimers. My other grandmother is 88 and fine but will probably need this one day. What a fabulous idea. Have often thought of things like this. I see a need for so many similar things. My hubs says I have great ideas for helping with elders. My grandmother loves to Skype with us and would love it if her nursing home would offer something like that to communicate with us. When I visit her I take my computer (they have wifi at her assisted living center) and we Skype or Facetime with other family members. Think of how that could impact families if they could do weekly Skypes with family members.

  2. on 28 Jan 2013 at 9:55 amhot Nai Nai

    Such a wonderful story. I kept thinking of my mother who would would want to be dressed perfectly for any occasion. If she were in this situation how much she would appreciate some one caring about her appearance. I also thought of Granma and how much I wished she could have had that pink tunic. She always took pride in the way she dressed .
    Thank you for sharing both the story and the website. Such an inspiration and I wish her all the success

  3. on 28 Jan 2013 at 5:22 pmSusan

    WOW! Liz is a woman I want to meet! I too am a caregiver for my mom who is in a wheelchair and she still wants to look beautiful. My father recently passed away and there were so many people at the funeral who told me how beautiful my mom looked. I am able to help her look fabulous even in that wheelchair because I am blessed to represent a fashion designer who wants all women from 16 to 96 look their best. I’m so thrilled to know that Liz saw a need for women that have special needs. I will be referring women to her!
    I also believe that you are beautiful from the inside out and my mom is a living testimony of that fact. Kristine, your mom is the same :). We are blessed women to have such good examples to follow!

  4. on 30 Jan 2013 at 4:28 amLiz Emery

    I’m so touched by all of your amazingly thoughtful replies — it means more to me than you could ever know! I’d love to hear your stories as well — please feel free to message me at liz@lizandett.com! And if anyone happens to be in NYC, I’d love to meet you in person. Kristine, you’re so sweet; thank you again for everything! xo

  5. on 06 Feb 2013 at 3:42 amActivation Energy « Liz & Ett

    […] website dedicated to supporting women in healthcare.  She recently posted Kristine Rudolph‘s moving piece on my story and shared her own powerful caregiving […]

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply