October 4, 2017 – As he spoke, his words miraculously showed up on the screen for all to see. You had to strain to pick up his words with your ears, but it was easy to see the words showing up accurately for more than 500 people in the crowd. Was it some new-found Alexa technology that could translate word to text? Nope, symbolically, it was his wife, his wife and soulmate for 46 years, typing away silently and unseen backstage, in the shadows. What a metaphor for one of the most remarkable couples you will ever see, Vivian and Mary Tellis-Nayak.
The story of Vivian is inspirational. From priest to professor, from researcher to author, he inspires through his words – and he inspires through his resiliency. His uninvited guest, Parkinson’s disease (or Mr. PD as he calls it) has taken away much of his body, but hasn’t taken away his soul and spirit. A recent article published in India speaks to the man.
This speech was the closing general session at the Pioneer Network Conference. His inspiring words were primarily aimed at person-directed care, tying together his expertise as an educator and a researcher. Vivian’s disease makes it difficult for him to speak, so Mary sat in the background transcribing his thoughts into words.
His work is fascinating and his passion never wanes, but what brought the house down (and up with a multi minute standing ovation at the end) was the remarkably personal tribute he gave to his wife and caregiver, Mary, during the speech. He was tearing up as he spoke, she was tearing up as she typed. It was a moment not to be missed.
Later that night, I was delighted to talk to Mary and Vivian. It was his day, it was his speech, but it was her behind the scenes typing that brought the words to life. They were both so thrilled at the day. Kudos to the Pioneer Network for providing the venue to honor his work. The whole “voice to text” was so emblematic of their lives together, how behind the scenes Mary is the true wind beneath his wings. It is how they live their lives together. Mary, never complaining, helping Vivian through his day to day realities. This is the epitome of unconditional love and I’ve been honored to have a front row seat.
My advice to anyone reading this is to inhale Vivian’s work by reading his recently released book, Return to Compassion in Health Care, co-written by Mary. It’s a great read for anyone touching elders in long term care. And as you flip through the pages, imagine the woman behind the scenes helping edit, helping inspire, helping him live. We all know the old cliché “behind every good man…” In this case, literally, she was behind him, tears dripping onto the keyboard as she translated his words for all of us to see.