“My sister, Lisa, says that I’ve reinvented myself more times than Madonna,” laughed Edmonds resident Jennifer Jones when she described her multiple careers over the last 30 years.
Although her transformations may seem random — photojournalism, an importing business, making documentaries and geriatric consulting — upon closer inspection, there’s something inevitable about it. Almost like it was meant to be.
Her first career was as a photojournalist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, where she met her husband, fellow P-I reporter Lanse Jones. “I was there for about 11 years,” she said. “I got to step into other people’s lives and live vicariously. I went to China, to a national Democratic convention. I covered the Mount St. Helens eruption. It was all wonderful and exciting.”
When the couple had their first child, Jones yearned for more flexibility in her demanding work schedule. A few years later when the second child came along, she decided to leave. “The news business was changing fast, with tighter budgets. Children shifted our priorities. We felt it was the right choice.”
Her husband’s family had an established import clothing business that they joined. “It gave us wonderful traveling opportunities with our children,” said Jones, “mainly to Bali and Indonesia.”
Their four stores, named Shirazi, carried popular hand-made batik clothing as well as handcrafted wood art. For more than 20 years the business flourished, attracting a loyal customer following.
But, as in the news business, change was coming; the Great Recession loomed. “We saw the handwriting on the wall,” Jones said. “We both realized we had to do something different.”
He became a paralegal, working in the University of Washington office of the state attorney general. She kept one foot in the stores and the other attending a year-long certificate course at the UW in independent filmmaking. “Like photojournalism, it’s visual storytelling,” she said. “I focused on documentaries.”
Even though Jones enjoyed the subject, she thought her long-term prospects were limited. “I felt it would be difficult path for an income-producing career.”
Meanwhile, Jones had become the primary caregiver of her elderly mother. “She was recently widowed, depressed, living alone in Florida. We convinced her to move here. And I realized, there are so many people like me, caring for a parent, not knowing what to do,” said Jones. “I got interested in gerontology.”
Learning to navigate the difficulties with her mother was the beginning of a journey into understanding the many challenges and adversities that confront aging adults.
Fate would have it that one of her store customers was a professional in that field and asked Jones to come work with her.
“So I began to work with this group of hands-on caregivers, which was great, but I wanted an academic understanding of the issues related to aging.”
Back she went to the UW for another year-long certificate course, this one in gerontology, studying online, weekends and evenings, while still running the stores. “I loved the course. It was thorough and comprehensive.”
One day, she attended a workshop on end-of-life planning run by another one of her loyal customers, Chaplain Trudy James. “Trudy said, ‘What are you doing now?’ and I said, ‘I’m a documentary filmmaker.’ She said, ‘Oh, I need one of those.’”
Kismet again. Their two-year collaboration resulted in a short film, Speaking of Dying, featuring interviews of people relating their own end-of-life experiences, and offering viewers resources on advanced-care planning. The documentary is now a staple of workshops and educational events, having been viewed more than 500 times across the nation. For Jones, the project was the perfect intersection of her two fields of study. “And working on the film opened my eyes to how important it is to have these kinds of conversations,” Jones said, “how important it is to talk to our families and doctors.”
Enter the next career. “I realized that eldercare was the natural move to make.”
She started her own business, Conscious Aging Eldercare. “I call myself a geriatric care manager. I meet with people and find out what their needs are to develop a care plan,” said Jones. “It’s work that touches my heart. The goal is to help them overcome barriers they may face to live independently.” Jones also offers resources for life’s transitions, including finding new housing situations, medical providers, and enrichment activities.
“In my other work as a Heartwork End-of-Life planning facilitator, I strive to take away the fear around death and dying and have deep conversations about planning for a good death,” she said. “I’d like to enable older adults to live more consciously, fearlessly, compassionately and with optimism for the future.”
— By Connie McDougall