Wednesday evening, when all the pretty people were at the Shrine Auditorium paying homage to Oscar, the motion picture industry totem, another group of people was at a party at the place where it all began. It was in the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard that the first Academy Awards ceremony was held in 1928. The movie named best picture that long-ago year was "Wings," and one of its stars was Charles (Buddy) Rogers.
Rogers was back in the Blossom Room on Wednesday night as the guest of honor of the Visiting Nurse Assn. of Los Angeles at the organization's 50th birthday ball.
The VNA of Los Angeles, Pasadena and the San Fernando Valley is one of those solid organizations I don't think much about. It's like the American Heart Assn. or 50 other organizations I take for granted. Most of us do. You know they're out there doing great, worthwhile things and isn't that wonderful? But unless the corners start to crumble off your life and you need them, groups like the VNA aren't at the top of your mind every day.
But it has been there for us since 1939 when some Los Angeles volunteers and some health professionals decided that there was a need for home care without any thought of the person's ability to pay.
Last year, staff members made 200,000 visits to 20,000 people. They manage all this with the help of Medicare, Medi-Cal and private insurance companies. They also depend on private fund-raising where they entice Los Angeles citizens to put a little something on the plate.
That's what the Oscar night ball was, a fund-raiser so that the VNA could continue to bring people nursing, therapy, social services (they help with Social Security forms, for instance) hospice care, intravenous therapy and maternal and newborn care so that people can be at home where they get well quicker. Visiting nurses also consult with patients on diets and medicine and provide medical supplies.
The money raised last week is ticketed for a new program called I COUNT TOO. It's for adolescents who are watching a parent die from a disastrous illness. At a time like that, all of the attention and energy of family and friends are focused on the ill person, and the kid may be told to do his homework, visit a friend, play with the dog, mow the lawn, anything but get in the way.
In I COUNT TOO, nurses and social workers meet with the young people and they talk about their problems, mainly the biggest, "How come me?"
The kids support each other so no one ever feels he is going through this dark woods all alone. Finally and always, they do do it alone, but the support offered to them, open-handedly, no strings, is of inestimable worth.
They find that the sadness, insecurity and worry are shared with other young people. The program takes them through the last awful days, the funeral, the mourning and the fact that their lives are torn up like bits of paper. It is a great help to kids in a black time.
My mother died of cancer when I was 18, and when the ambulance came to pick her up to take her to the hospital for what we all knew would be her last surgery, Daddy, a lawyer, was in a trial, and I was alone. When the ambulance drove away from the house, I fell to the living room floor with my face in the carpet and cried. Our schnauzer, a wise dog, came over and licked my tears and I knew I had to stop because I was worrying my best friend. I remember well saying to Monks, "Well, this isn't getting anything done and won't change anything and self-pity is tacky. Let's go peel the potatoes." And we did.
Mama had always said that we don't weep for the dead. We weep for ourselves and the terrible hollowness inside us. Besides, I had to take care of Daddy and get dinner ready and go to the theater and do my show.
When Mama died, I remember following the casket down the center aisle of St. Victor's with Daddy and seeing my friends out of the corner of my eye. I felt as if I were odd, strange, out of step. My mother had died, which made me different.
But I was 18 and I still had Daddy and Monks. A lot of younger kids are losing the only parent they have and have no idea where they will even live and take their stuff. Can they keep their dog, wherever they have to go?
These are some of the tearing problems helped by the adults who run I COUNT TOO. And this is just one of the programs financed by the VNA and its friends.
I know all the VNA guests had a wonderful time at their Oscar night ball, and some kids will have a little gentler time because a wise and trained grown-up says just the right thing.
It's a wonderful project. I would like to tell the youngsters facing this that nothing that happens is their fault and that although it won't go away, it will get better.