Al and Joan Perris: When strength means accepting help

IMG_0711October 2014

Mission Hospice was there when Al Perris called to ask about help for his wife, who died last June. He knew they needed help and wasn’t afraid to ask for it when it came to getting the best care.

Joan Perris, a retired geriatric social worker who worked for many years with the Senior Coastsiders day care program, urged him to contact Mission Hospice & Home Care as her health deteriorated. She had been on the hospice board when it was an all-volunteer organization.

“I called her doctor, who said OK. That was 11 o’clock in the morning on a weekday in mid-March, and they were here in three or four hours to evaluate her and provide medication, a care manager, a social worker, and a doctor.”

Al, a retired leasing agent involved in shopping center development, was very much a part of Joan’s care, whether she was in a nursing facility or at home, according to Mission Hospice social worker Mariano Guzman.

“Al wanted the best for Joan,” Guzman said. “He’d send out detailed emails, and when she was in a nursing facility, he visited several times a day. It was just very touching. I admired the love and dedication they had.”

Al credits Mission Hospice with always being there for him whether he needed advice about installing a stair lift or someone to talk to. “I was surprised at how helpful they were,” Al said. “I could call up any time. Whatever needed to be done, there was backup and guidance.”

IMG_0716The couple was married in 1950, when Joan was 18, and they were together for 63 years. They had three children (and later two grandchildren) and Joan was a typical mid-century housewife and homemaker, who later ventured outside her San Mateo home to work in business.

“As she progressed and matured, she became a very strong, self-confident, capable and decisive person,” recalled Al. Joan earned her college degree and a master’s in social work at age 59 and became a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). After retiring at age 70 from Senior Coastsiders, Joan volunteered at Kaiser Hospital and other places, and she and Al travelled extensively until a series of health problems intervened.

Al believes that getting care for his wife also meant getting care for himself. When Joan was first diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2010, Al attended an Alzheimer’s caregiver group. He started attending a Mission Hospice grief support group just before Joan died.

“I think a lot of guys have trouble with getting help,” he said. “I have to admit, sometimes I felt a little wimpy in a group with six widows, but it helped. Since then, I’ve joined the writing group at Mission Hospice and it’s been very helpful.

“I believe that if there’s help available, take it. Let’s face it. You’re in for a tough time, and it won’t get better. Even if you don’t participate, you can get valuable information that you won’t hear about unless you let yourself be exposed to it.”