This blog has been silent for one year. I did not intend to stop writing and I haven’t entirely, but have instead shifted my attention toward an overwhelming opportunity that arrived early last year. Like a giant bouquet of flowers from a handsome admirer (non-stalking or creepy), I have been blushing and humbled all year long. Those of you who know me understand the depth of my commitment to creative memory care. I am not alone in this desire to be as helpful as I can and offer up what I have to the community of adults living with memory loss and their families.
This year, we had the chance to catapult a bushel of ideas that have been germinating for years. Heave-ho! The results are still unfolding and bring with them another generation of ideas to champion. I’d like to share a few of these creative projects with you. They have changed the way I work and continue to influence my outlook on life and what it means to be human. But first, some emotional transparency on my end and a question for you, dear reader. (Short on time? Just skip this next part and scroll right to the bottom! I’m not sure when I’m going to get back to this blog, so I shared a lot).
For most of my career I have coped, along with my colleagues, with the tug of war between abundance and lack. A few examples: Abundance of ideas… we lacked “X” amount of dollars for program expansion and development. We lacked the full support needed to move some initiatives forward, but the support we did have was 100% genuine, positive and working so very hard. We lacked visibility to bring more people to our services, and yet we had abundant success with the clients we had. We made due, I made due, I pushed, we pushed, I pushed back, we got pushed over, and we brushed ourselves off and stood up again- taller, over and over again for 15 years, small grant after small grant. We passed out water and towels in the form of friendship to absorb the exhaustion and continue to offer support and encouragement during frustrating times. (Thank you, Cassie, Beth, Kathi, Elaine, Emily!….)
Narratives are powerful. I have understood and respected this power for many years and STILL, it shakes me by the shoulders every few months or so like I’m a bratty child. I was not prepared for the new chapter in the book last year, the one whose first sentence reads…. Once upon a time there was an anonymous donor who funded your program idea. And then the next: which led to another donor funding more wellness programs for the foreseeable future. Lack is an illusion. No strings attached, a dream come true. There is more to come, keep reading and dreaming! Mouth agape.
Cheers, jubilation, sharing, caring, clarity, of course and… oh, crap, fear. What? Who invited fear?!!! “Apparently, it’s been here all along master”, a meek voice says over the other voices in my head. Fear: the rascal barnacle taking a joyride on the wave of my positive emotions. Darn it! Sneaky narrative. And so, I ask you reader, has your abundance story ever taken your breath away like falling backwards off the monkey bars? Has it scared you into action or inaction? The social worker and researcher, Brene Brown, calls it Daring Greatly. It is the title of her fifth book. I read it last year (twice) and immediately purchased several as gifts. To dare greatly isn’t simply about taking risks, it means radical compassion towards our own vulnerable and nervous uncertainty (and others), and the intention to be inspired, receive inspiration, inspire others while feeling this fear, knowing it by name and taking action anyway.
The narrative of lack vs. abundance screams “No! Stop! Caution!” like a sweaty boxing coach in one corner while the zen goddess in the other corner is patiently nodding, “Yes, child. Now is the time”. They are both right. My Tai Chi Chuan and Chi Kung teacher, Wasentha Young, references the I Ching; the heart of living is change and the ancient complement of the Yin-Yang. It is also the classic arc of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey in all of us. It is the beautiful blend of both which creates the swirl of balance cast from the light in our soul through the prism of our mind and enjoyed as a spectrum of color in our daily lives.
I have never had to look far for heroes. So much wisdom has been offered as an example, from courageous clients, friends and neighbors who have faced tremendous changes, scary shifts in health, fear and sometimes, lack. Every single one of them has something in common. They acknowledge change and loss and chose to be open to abundance in response. They are creative and they are kind, towards themselves first, which can then be offered generously to others. They radiate with beauty and gratitude and boldly demonstrate that which cuts to the heart of why we are really, really here: To take care of each other.
And now (drum roll) , I’d like to share a little slice of what fear and courage in one small department at U of M created this year. Tah-dah!
An Expanded Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center (or MADC, for hipsters) and a shiny new website to boot (launched today, July 1st, 2013!) Check it out. Memory Connections, research, community calendar, a blog, podcasts, videos and more. Live well.
Stories, poems and essays. The voices of adults living with memory loss, care partners, health professionals and medical students at the University of Michigan. Released in April, hard copies arrived in June. This project has been incredibly moving and an honor to participate as an co-editor. A podcast of this project will be posted later this month via MindWise, MADC podcast/itTunes U.
Celebrating its first anniversary in April of 2013, the Catching Your Breath (CYB) program continues to offer monthly programs and seasonal retreats. At the heart of the MADC Wellness Initiative, CYB is designed to cultivate peace of mind and balance for family members caring for someone with memory loss. Creative healing arts, personal well-being and nature partner to form the ideal classroom.
The amazing work of my friends and colleagues, Anne Mondro (UM School of Art and Design) and Elaine Reed (UMHS Gifts of Art). The Retaining Identity program takes place annually at our beloved Silver Club programs and included the Elderberry (Elder, Barely) Club in 2013. Also a Word Press neighbor (follow their blog!), the students posted weekly reflections of their unique partnerships with group members. Their collaborative art work has since been in a traveling gallery. Next stop: UM Taubman Center.
Thank you for reading! Living well in a life that includes memory loss and caregiving is possible. There has to be a better way than fear, isolation and worry. There is still so much to be done. We are all worthy of care in safe, creative and inspired environments.