Helayne Levy Payne, J.D., LL.M. Elder Law & Life Care Planning Attorney
WHY I DO WHAT I DO
It’s good sometimes to reflect on how we got here, to this very point in time. Don’t we all tend to do this when something in our life has either gone very badly or, at the other end of the spectrum, when something in our life has gone really well? I’ve come at it from both ends of that spectrum. The first was when my darling son was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified, also known as Autism) when he was 2 years old. It was devastating, really, considering how I consciously counted my blessings when my son, the first born, had cleared his 1st birthday symptom-free – having learned from the media that autism typically presents by a child’s 1st birthday and afflicts more boys than it does girls.
As it turned out, it would not be that easy. With no other vocabulary except counting into the thousands from the age of 3, my son’s only verbal communication was to go one-for-one. He’d say, “999”, I’d say, “1000”, he’d say, “1001” and so it went. I really hung on to those moments because I knew it might be the only exchange with any meaning that he and I would share. From there followed what could only be described as an ominous and lonely storm with winds so powerful that it almost took me down. He slowly sank into the depths of the affliction, non-communicative, zoned-out, with repetitive behaviors, perseverating on colors and shapes, namely yellow circles, as he, himself, continuously walked in circles. I went into militant-mom mode, learning what it meant to be an advocate on all fronts, dealing with the health care profession, the school system, store vendors to online vendors from whom I purchased all the ridiculously expensive ingredients necessary to bake and cook every gluten-free, casein-free, dye and chemical free morsel of food and every antiseptic, cream, soap, bath soap and medication my son put into his mouth or that came into contact with his skin.
Three months into this, and the myriad of other more conventional interventions, the inclusion-specialist who had been working with Aaron in his pre-school setting made my dream a reality when she posed the best question I could have hoped for, “What’s going on with Aaron? He’s a completely different child!” Like a mad scientist, I had purposely hid my “experimental” concoction of dietary treatment, vitamin supplements, digestive enzymes with names that were as odd as their smell, from his inclusion specialist, the auditory processing specialists and teams of therapists, so that any perception of any change observed in him would be uninfluenced by any knowledge of what I was doing.
I cannot explain how it worked, exactly what worked but something or all things did and today, outside of some of the quirkiness that we now ascribe to our “little professor,” Aaron is deeply contemplative, happy, and hilariously funny, but still doesn’t understand sarcasm. He is in a typical 7th-grade environment and not surprisingly, in the Academically or Intellectually Gifted (AIG) program for science, math, and language. His dream is to become an aeronautical engineer for NASA. Samantha, my now 10-year-old daughter, burst onto the scene when Aaron was 19 months old. She was in existence before the storm hit and endured the storm resiliently. She is a beautiful, inspired and passionate soul with a lot to say. A lover of stray animals, mostly cats, her dream is to become a veterinarian. Throughout, she has been Aaron’s perfect balancing counterpart: adventurous to Aaron’s reserved nature, impulsive to Aaron’s cautiousness, having superior intercommunication skills to his shyness, and has been a great social training ground for what Aaron would invariably face in the world as he grew older, particularly when it came to girls.
(Pictured: My dad, Aaron, and Sammy in “their element”)
When my father was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 79, I was able to shepherd both him, and my mother, for that matter, through the “system”, otherwise known as the hospital and skilled nursing home rehab settings. It was then I realized my years of training, education, and experience had a most meaningful purpose, one that served my family when chronic illness struck home. We’re blessed. My dad is back to doing what he loves, boating, model railroading and being “Papa” to Aaron and Samantha. Mom is by his side but not when he’s boating or railroading!
Then and now, I take great solace in Eleanor Roosevelt’s saying, one that resonated:
“It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.”
And so, with that fundamental core belief, it is here that I find myself today, celebrating the reflection on the other side of the spectrum, the founding and opening of the Elder Law & Life Care Planning Center. Surrounded by my blessings, Parents: Ben & Linda Levy; Love of my Life, White- Collar Criminal Defense Attorney Col. W. James Payne, USMCR (Ret.); children Aaron and Samantha; and the incredibly dedicated and truly gifted team at the Center, it is the very thing I’ve come to realize is my purpose (hence, the tag line “a practice with purpose” ) to provide a Center of Excellence in service, advocacy, and connectedness to people who need what we have to give, to do what we happen to be really good at and to love what we do. I like to think I have the perfect combination of my parent’s best attributes, dad’s intellect, and professionalism and mom’s tenacity and intuition. If not for the unwavering support of my parents and their deep confidence in my motherhood and livelihood, I would not be writing these words to you. They are what got me through it all, with humor and appreciation. Most recently I have accepted the appointment of Assistant Vice President for the Board of Directors for Wealth Council North Carolina - I am looking forward to serving in this capacity.
Here is where I could have listed my education, my credentials, my professional experience but you can read all about that, or not, somewhere else. The education, credentials, and experience are not what I’m truly about. What you won’t read anywhere else, but you’ll feel in everything I do, is my heart.
With appreciation for every day,