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.