My husband Bruce is the Director of Social Services for Proxy Parent Foundation. Recently, he came home with an unusual item in his briefcase—a colorful metal can, labeled ‘Bruce’s Yams’.
I thought perhaps it was one of those impulse buys that signals a smile he wanted to share with me.
“It’s a gift – from Laurie,” he explained cheerfully. Laurie is one of Proxy Parent Foundation’s trust beneficiaries. Laurie had honored Bruce with her gift. “One of my favorites”, she added.
Bruce first met Laurie almost twenty years ago, shortly after the death of her parents, who had set up a Proxy Parent Foundation trust with us a few years before. They were keen on the fact that Proxy Parent Foundation offered Personal Support Services since Laurie had significant trouble navigating daily life’s numerous challenges. While she was still living in the family home, Laurie’s parents looked after her as best they could, but once they were gone, Laurie had a very hard time dealing realistically with any kind of structure. She had been receiving public benefits, but she was unable to manage the funds.
Laurie found rules and boundaries very difficult to accept. She was prone to go off her meds, and abuse alcohol.
Laurie couldn’t let go of the belief that she should be allowed to do as she pleased. The word ‘trust’ encouraged her to indulge in her belief that she was an heiress. Laurie was fix-ated on her perceived inability to comply with Proxy Parent Foundation’s strict adherence to not only protecting her trust resources but also her public benefits. She argued for control of her trust and couldn’t accept that her de-mands weren’t being fulfilled. Because she couldn’t abide rules in a safe Board and Care where she had a private room, she walked out, saying she preferred total freedom and went homeless. Then she was in and out of the ER with a myriad of physical issues caused by her homelessness. Bruce enlisted the support of a psychiatric nurse from a public mental health mental agency and together they coaxed Laurie back into treatment, stabilized her living situation, and maintained her on medication and medical treatments.
Still, Laurie continued to campaign for her wish lists, while Bruce negotiated in good faith to chip away at Laurie’s unhealthy habits and help her make better choices. Laurie would call Bruce repeatedly, at all hours, forgetting she’d already called, stating her demands, from the trust buying her a vehicle to live in, to having her favorite foods delivered to her door. In response Bruce would patiently explain time and again that the trust had to last as long as possible—hopefully through Laurie’s lifetime. He reiterated to her about the rigid perimeters of the public benefits system. Laurie resisted. Bruce persisted.
Recently, Laurie finally arrived at the understanding that Bruce has been acting as a sort of big brother all along, always looking out for her, and having no problem saying “no” to requests that are not in her best interest. She has truly learned to appreciate that Bruce’s measured distributions from the trust budget were calculated out of concern for her. She still asks Bruce for things she doesn’t really need or that are out of reach, but that’s part of their bond. It’s a connec-tion that has stood the testiness of time: saying “no” 90% of the time for 20 years.
Director, School of Writing for Film, Television & Digital Media, Academy of Art University
Nancy Nigrosh is a former Hollywood literary agent and is currently a literary coach. She recently earned her MA in Education and her teaching credential from Antioch University while concur- rently earning an MFA in Film, TV and Digital Media from UCLA. Though she and Bruce Lewitt attended New York University’s School of the Arts in the same 1973 class, they reconnected in Los Angeles 37 years later, in 2010, and subsequently married in January, 2011.