As part of a lifestyle and aging series, we’re working with renowned photographer Terry Lorant to showcase inspirational leaders in the industry. Each month, we’ll feature one or a few inspirational member(s) of the Amazing Care Network community who is using his or her voice to empower others in the collective aging experience. Read, in their own words, what the Amazing Care Network’s efforts mean to them.

This month we’re proud to feature ACN Member, Howard Todo

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your work and background and how you came to know the Amazing Care Network?

HT: For the last ten years of my career I was CFO for the University of Hawaii, the only major public university in Hawaii. Along with the community college system here, it’s got about 60,000 students, which is a pretty sizable enterprise in Hawaii. It took a lot of my energy but it was a way of me giving back because at that point it wasn’t about making money. It was about doing something that was meaningful in the larger scheme of things. I retired from UH in 2015. Hopefully I’m fully retired now, except for serving on boards like University Health Alliance (UHA).

When I started getting involved with the UHA board, Howard Lee was thinking about using Sterling and Amazing Care for his employees and I thought it seemed like a pretty good way to help young people get the idea of saving for the future. That’s how I got introduced to Cora and the Amazing Care project. As I learned about the idea, it really resonated with me from a personal standpoint.

First of all, Cora impressed me because of her work background and the professional success that she’s had. Then, to learn she retired but now she’s going to do this enterprise, Sterling and Amazing Care. Well, ACN really resonated because at that point I had recently lost my mother and my father. And my wife’s father was going through end of life hospice and all that entails. So it was a time where I’m thinking about all of these things and going through a lot. Then to find out about the Amazing Care Network…especially the teas…it’s been a great support group. I started going to those and I’ve really benefited from them. Ultimately my father-in-law passed away, but we still have my mother-in-law who is 98 years old now. My wife has retired and she’s been like a caregiver, even though my mother-in-law lives in a care home. But, as you know, there’s still a lot of time spent by my wife taking care of her. I’m kind of the second line, because she takes care of her mother and I take care of her. I do the things that need to get done because she’s busy taking care of her mother. That’s my connection with the Amazing Care Network…with the teas…I learned a lot from them and there’s a lot of sharing, a lot of things that I’ve learned through the process.

Q: Can you share some of those insights?

HT: Let me start by saying that I wish we had more young people involved in the teas and the Amazing Care Network because we really do a lot of talking among our group and we share experiences. Those of my generation have been through a lot of it. I think there’s a real benefit for people who haven’t faced these issues yet. They can learn from others and possibly be more prepared. For instance, when we talk about sharing experiences, people are always wondering and asking, what can you do for the older people?

For me, it’s a little like the instructions you get on an airplane: if the oxygen mask comes down, put it on yourself first and then help somebody else. It’s kind of like what you have to do when you’re a caregiver. You can’t give care to somebody else unless you make sure to take care of yourself. It’s hard and very stressful and time consuming. So somebody has to look out for the caregiver as well as the person who’s getting taken care of. That gets overlooked a lot.

At first, I felt bad because my role with my mother-in-law is sort of secondary. My wife does a lot of the care giving for her. I’ll help as needed, but she does most of it which is what her mother wants. Then someone helped me to understand that with all the ways I’m supporting my wife, I’m a caregiver too. It’s a mindset that I think people need to understand better.  There are lots of ways to give care.

Other hints and insights that I’ve picked up: in her last years, my mother became very apologetic, often saying things like, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I never thought I’d be like this. I didn’t want to be a burden on anybody,” and things like that.  My mother-in-law, at 98 is still sharp as a tack but can be very demanding and is easily upset.  One of the presenters at an Amazing Care tea talked about this very situation.

Why do these people get cranky? Well, because they don’t want to be old, experiencing their decline and they don’t want to be dependent on other people. When you look at it that way you can understand why they might not be very happy and they might be cranky and demanding.  Their choices have become limited. These are the kinds of lessons and insights that you learn with other members of Amazing Care Network.

Young people just getting started in the care giving part of life could use this kind of insight and help.