Friday, March 18, 2016

Tip #8 Grieve with the help of stories.

The Tip:
Cry all the tears you need to, and then – no rush, whenever you’re ready, this could take minutes or months – reread the stories that the older adult has told you. It may even turn some of your tears into a smile. And if you feel up to it, you can print out the stories and offer them as a small collection to the older adult's family. This turns the older adult's life into a permanent legacy and will really give the family a sense of comfort.

The Moments that Led to This Tip:
I wish this tip didn’t have to exist. I wish there were no big scary thing called death. I wish we the living didn’t have to feel so sad when someone we love passes away. I wish I weren’t so familiar with that feeling. But having worked with hundreds of older adults now, many of whom I consider my best friends, I am very familiar with the feeling. When I pick up the phone, and one of their family members is on the line with a subdued tone, my heart sinks knowing what I am about to hear. These blog posts trace my personal journey in learning to cope with news of death:

In memory of Arthur, part 1
In memory of Arthur, part 2
In memory of Arthur, part 3
In memory of Little Miss Mo
In memory of Aileen and Gloria
In memory of Gogo
In memory of Bernice and Helen

The Story:
In my conversations with one of our amazing lead facilitators in New Jersey, the topic of grieving came up. Diana handled it with so much grace and dignity in her Best Day group, that I invited her to share her insight with other facilitators in the country.

Losing a Best Day Member
Diana Clark
February 18, 2016

As a widow, the reality of death hit home and has left me all too aware of the possibility. It is a side effect of loss.  As a Best Day facilitator in a retirement home setting, I work with some members who are quite elderly.  As I have grown closer and closer to each person, the thought of losing any one of them makes me shudder.  And then it happened, and it happened again, and then again.  In every situation, the Best Day program has been a source of comfort.  Although the person is no longer present, we have an account of his/her life in his/her own words that will always be available to us.  We have been able to print out those precious words and present them to the deceased’s family.  How I wish I had such a treasure from my husband, my father, and my mother.

I am also the copy editor for our group.  Each year on my computer, I create an ongoing document for each writer.  I place a copy of each week’s story in the document of that writer.  On our yearly anniversary, we give a hardcopy of each writer’s stories to the writer.  In the event of loss, we present the family with a copy of the loved one’s complete works since the beginning of the program.  Taking photos regularly makes it possible to add current photos to the booklet we give the family.

Everyone grieves in their own way—whatever gets them through.  For me, talking about my husband is therapeutic.  I believe talking about the absent Best Day member keeps him/her present.  Humor is a big part of our group.   Before we know it, we are reminiscing and smiling whenever we speak of our parted member.  Death is part of life, and we must learn to accept it.  Fortunately, we do not have to journey alone.  Best Day has proven to be not only a writing group, but also a support group.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Tip #7 Look beyond disabilities.

The Tip:
This is a tip that follows on from the one before. If you can genuinely see the internal strength in an older adult (and this is something that only you can know for sure in your heart), you will look beyond any and all disabilities that he or she may have, whether it is physical (such as arthritis or blindness), cognitive (such as problems remembering things, language barriers or dementia), or other mental health issues (such as anxiety, mood or psychotic disorders). There is no need to be scared if you have never interacted with someone with a disability before. Simply treat him or her like a fellow human being and find a creative way to work around the particular issue this person may have. The Best Day storytelling process challenges the older adult to think back about past life experiences, pick a specific story topic for each session, write down the story, and tell the story with a positive perspective even when it is about a negative experience – it is meant to be challenging but not intimidating. For someone with a disability, modify the process as needed. It's ok if he or she repeats the same experience and the facts don't add up – remember the tip about honoring the older adult's version of the truth rather than trying to go after absolute fact? It's ok if his or her hand can't physically write – just write the story down as he or she verbally tells it to you. And it's ok if he or she has trouble seeing the positive in anything especially the first few times you talk – eventually he or she will come around.

The Moment:
This intimate moment will always stand big and tall in Best Day's history. It's the moment 17-year-old Olivia emailed me her reflections on Joe's story. She named her story after Joe's: "Vision". Together, Olivia and Joe shared their stories to a public audience just a couple months later at a Best Day community event. That was over five years ago and people still email me telling me how inspired they were by our dynamic duo.

The Stories:
Joe Garrison

One afternoon I was getting on a bus, waiting for a seat when some well-meaning person offered to take me to a seat.  However, he sat me on someone’s lap.  I was embarrassed and the person I sat on was angry.  I in turn was angry at the person who supposedly was trying to help me.  I could smell alcohol on his breath.  He said to me, “What are you arguing with me about?  You can’t even see!”

Another incident was when someone asked me if I wished I could see.  The moral of the story is I don't have physical sight, but I believe I can see.  If I am in your presence or I experience being with you, then I see you.  If I understand what you are telling me, then I see.  To see means to understand.  Movies and television are just as enjoyable to me as they are to you.

Olivia S. Brown

I’m used to hearing stories about “a party last night”, the “latest school gossip”, or what’s “hot” and what’s “not”, but I rarely get to sit and hear stories as simple, but inspiring, as those shared with me during my recent visit to Philadelphia Senior Center.

One may get to hear stories similar to those I heard last week every now and then in a blog, article or documentary, but there was something special in hearing them first-hand—from people sitting right across from you set in a backdrop of so many unique personalities and characters.
I was most inspired by the stories told to me by the visually impaired in the room.  They appeared to look at things from ways no one else could see.  Although they were blind, I discovered that I was the one who couldn’t see after I was enlightened by their insight. 

Overall I left the meeting thinking I need more people like them in my life.