Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life. This quote is attributed to the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius, but it’s meaning has resonated for thousands of years. Just ask Our Lady of Peace Certified Nursing Assistants Mekonnen Dori, CNA and Hari Pal, CNA who at ages 71 and 70 have no desire to retire.
Mekonnen Dori has worked in the Our Lady of Peace Hospice Residence for 17 years and says, “caring for patients makes me happy.” Once a teacher in his native Ethiopia, he spent two years in an Ethiopian jail because as a teacher in a private school, he opposed the communist government, run by the military. After serving his sentence, he realized that he would continue to get in trouble with the government because he didn’t support it, so he needed to leave the country. With passport in hand, Mekonnen went to the border and crossed into Kenya with four of his six children. Because they were little, he had to leave the two younger ones behind with their grandparents. After securing a sponsor the Dori family came to America on May 11, 1999.
A CNA course and certification led Mekonnen to a CNA position at an Episcopal care home where he also became certified as a trained medical assistant. He joined OLP staff in 2004 and has been with us ever since. Mekonnen’s younger son came to America five years ago, and his daughter has chosen to remain in Ethiopia where she works within the family businesses. Mekonnen is proud to say he is blessed with 13 grandchildren.
Why does Mekonnen not desire to retire? “I’m a Christian, and it makes me happy to help people,” he says. “If you believe in God, you feel closer to him when you do his work. My patients are dying, and they need my help.” Mekoneen says he also enjoys working alongside his colleagues who support each other. “We are like a family.”
Mekonnen plans to keep working until it’s too difficult physically. But for now, he says working keeps him strong and it’s better than sitting at home. “An 86-year-old doctor once asked me if I work to make a living and I told him, ‘no.’ I work because I love what I do and would miss OLP too much if I retired.”
Hari Pal has been a CNA in the Our Lady of Pace Hospice Residence for 34 years. He came to the United States in the 1980’s from Fiji. Sponsored by his wife’s brother, Hari landed in Seattle to reunite with his wife who had immigrated earlier. Sadly, she had found someone else and moved on with life without him, which was devastating. Hari was prepared to return to Fiji, but his family encouraged him to stay.
With tears in his eyes, Hari talks about having to leave his parents behind to immigrate to America, so you can imagine that saying goodbye to a loved one is not something he takes lightly. Hari has empathy for families whose loved ones pass in his care. Caring for patents brings him peace because he was unable to care for his parents. He says, “I like helping patients, like I would have liked to do for my parents. Caring for patients makes me feel good.”
Hari does what he can to give patients the highest quality of life while in his care. Whether it’s taking a patient for a stroll in a wheelchair in the courtyard or bringing something into their room for them to enjoy, his focus is kindness and compassion.
There is a happy ending to Hari’s story. He lived with a cousin in Seattle while training to become a CNA, found a job, and married again. Hari has lived in Minnesota for 36 years and has cared for patents at Our Lady of Peace for 32 years. He has four children and six grandchildren.
OLP Registered Nurse Tom Cassidy has worked alongside Hari and Mekonnen for many years and has good things to say about both of them. “Hari knows where everything is, so if we can’t find something, we go to him. He’s also the “McGiver” of OLP because he’s a genius with getting equipment to work, and he’s our one and only barber, so can give patients a haircut, shave or mustache trim, when needed.”
Tom says Mekonnen always arrives early to work, and often brings coffee or muffins to share with colleagues. He is sensitive to people’s needs, and is friendly, polite, and courteous. He’s also a great storyteller, sharing stories of teaching and coaching soccer in Ethiopia.
Mekonnen Dori and Hari Pal are loved by patients and are beloved members of the OLP staff. They both say, “I don’t think about retirement. I’m happy here.”