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.
Liz 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!