By Bruce Stambaugh
After the doctor informed Vivian Miller, 68, four years ago that she had Parkinson’s disease, he asked how she felt about the diagnosis.
Miller didn’t flinch. She mustered up her usual pluck and said, “It’s not going to put me in a corner someplace.” Indeed it hasn’t.
In the time since, Miller has spent her life quietly helping others.
“It’s not about me,” she said modestly. “God uses me as an encouragement and support for others.”
Miller, who lives in Berlin, Ohio, intentionally looks for those in need, though she clearly tries to be subtle and discreet. If she finds out about someone with health or personal problems, Miller doesn’t hesitate to help, even if it’s simply by sending a homemade card.
She uses a software program to create personally appropriate cards. Miller often incorporates a picture of the person or herself into the card’s design.
When she was unable to go on a cruise with her Sunday School class, Miller knew what to do. Instead of being envious, she made a welcome home card for each member. On the front of the card was the picture of the cruise ship on which the group had sailed.
“I wanted them to have a special memento from their trip,” Miller said.
That statement pretty well sums up Miller’s approach to life. Her doctor told her she would do well with that positive attitude, and Miller has. Miller said it really boils down to a pretty fundamental formula.
“It’s about listening to others,” she said. “Everybody has a story, and all you need to do is listen.”
Miller retired as a deputy director in the Holmes County Treasurer’s office in 2006. She had also worked in the office at Rodhe’s IGA in Millersburg for several years.
“From my vantage point in the office, I would see the same people come into the store over and over,” she said. “They usually just wanted someone to talk to.”
“I try to see the goodness in people,” Miller said, “no matter what their situation is.”
Miller credits her term as a deaconess at Walnut Creek Mennonite Church with giving her the courage and opportunities to be in a helping mode. She did hospital visits and checked in on the less mobile.
Miller looks for every possible way to help and to meet new people. She even works at the polls at times to help expand her circle of friends.
Miller especially has sought out others who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She explained that support, no matter what the issue, is critical for quality of life.
According to the National Institute of Health, Parkinson’s disease is a motor systems disorder, which is the result of the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. The four primary symptoms of the disease are tremor or trembling in the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face.
Often times the onset of Parkinson’s is due to surgery or a head injury. In Miller’s case, she noticed the symptoms after a series of unrelated surgeries following her retirement.
For Miller, the disease has affected her left side. She discretely calms her left arm with her right hand and continues her conversation. That in itself is a physical sign of the inner awareness that Miller has. She is determined to share her compassion no matter what.
“Sometimes people seek me out,” Miller said, “and sometimes I go to them.”
Each situation is different, and Miller tries her best to be mindful of that. Miller just takes her illness in stride.
“Now it’s my turn to help,” she said. “Some of my best friends have come as the result of just being with families in need.”
Strident comforter that she is to others, Miller recognizes that she, too, needs support to do what she does. Miller credits her husband, Duane, and adult children, Valerie Gerber of Sugarcreek, and Scott Miller of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with providing the emotional and physical uplifting that she needs to maintain her active and involved pace.
“Duane has been wonderful,” she said, “and Valerie calls me everyday.” Her son sent her a laptop computer while she had an extended stay in the hospital. In part, that gift is what led to Miller’s practice of designing, printing and sending the personalized cards.
“I have been blessed by everyone I have met,” Miller said. Most likely, the recipients of her kindness could say the same thing about her.
This article was initially published in the Holmes Bargain Hunter.