Tuesday, October 23, 2012

forgetting as an option

"wouldn't it be nice
to just live for today
and let the past
just slip away."
-robert boughter


as many of you know, i work four nights a week at a local green house cottage for the elderly with alzheimer's. most people who hear about what i do immediately think "how awful! those poor people who are forgetting everything. how can you stand it?"  i even had someone suggest that this must be doubly terrible since our guests are at the end of their lives so they are "just going to die on you, so how can you invest so much in them? especially since they won't even remember all that you are doing for them!" my answer to these, and many other similar questions, is always the same: how can i not?

while it is true that i have attended more funerals in the past four years that i have worked in the cottages than most people will attend in a dozen lifetimes, our guests have provided me with more joy and fulfillment than i could ever have hoped for in life. i am so fortunate to be able to share in their daily wonder and delight. to be be a part of their lives and families. to be humbled by their trust and unconditional love. not to mention the plethora of lessons and wisdom i have had bestowed upon me by their very act of living.

one of these lessons is how forgetting can bring contentment. true, our guests have little choice in what they have forgotten. or when they forget. but they do get to choose how they will respond to their forgetting, and most of them choose to respond with joy. the joy of living in the moment. from the guest who is only just entering into the early stages of the disease who fills in the blank spots in her memory with happy alternatives, right on down to the gentle lady who introduces herself to me every time she sees me whether it was yesterday, or less than five minutes ago, and does so with a smile in her eyes and joy in her heart at meeting someone new that she can welcome into her home!

these amazing and beautiful people live in the now. find joy and peace in each moment, in spite of their physical and mental maladies. how can i not try to honor them by seeking to do the same? it isn't always easy. i struggle with depression and loneliness. but i have so many shining examples around me who are struggling with so much more.

one arena that i am focusing on in this moment, is to bring this forgetting into my art as an option. by this i mean that i want to try and forget to judge everything i do. to move forward with each peace in joy and be content with its outcome. to forget what other people my think and say about my art based upon their own biases and opinions, and to create for the simple sake of creating something beautiful and wonderful to my own eye. just as our guests in the cottages live each moment in each day. forgetting the pain and the slights life, and often family, have offered them, in favor of finding joy in a cupcake...or the warmth of a caring touch.

i once had a guest who was blind, in the advanced stages of alzheimer's, and suffered from crippling arthritis, who always knew it was me before i even reached  her room and greeted me with a big smile no matter how much pain she was in. i asked her how she always knew it was me and could always remember my name but no one else's. she told me it was because whenever she heard the jingle of keys on my belt heading down the hall, she knew that "joe, who has kind hands" was coming to see her and it always made her happy. of how she always looked forward to "seeing" the highly textural cloths that i made with her in mind. of how she enjoyed spending time, telling me about the things she "saw" in my art cloth through her fingers.

she has been gone for two years now, but i can't think of her without a smile touching my lips and a tear washing my cheek. it is for her, and those like her, that i mean to strive to create art with forgetting as an option...

namaste'

28 comments:

  1. I have to say joe, a tear has come to my eye as I am reading this beautiful
    and touching story. Thank you for sharing your world and the beautiful life lessons found along the way. I am touched. xo

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    1. thank you, marie. i enjoy reading about other people's life lessons so thought i would share some of my own...

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  2. This is a beautiful post Joe .....so lovely to hear a different side to aging and alzheimers.
    Thank you for being such a caring and sensitive soul. We can see your "kind hands" in the cloths you share with us.
    Take care of yourself (and all of those you care for...people and beautiful animals too).
    Looking forward to you next creations...

    Jacky xox

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    1. yes. there is so much about the downside of it all. it's always nice to hear about an upside. :)

      been working on a couple things this week, will be posting in the next day or two.

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  3. such wonderful lessons learned from the most unimaginable places. thanks for sharing.

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  4. Beautiful post, Joe, and beautiful picture. Having personal experience of dementia with several of those dear to me, I know a little of what you are saying - that the pleasure in forgetting leaves all the bad things behind, but also that each experience, being "new", brings renewed light and joy - when I take my much loved aunt to the shops she is so thrilled because "I can't have been to the shops for a hundred years, it's all so fascinating". The potential for delight is always there, but there is also grace in those souls who can face these things with dignity. I'm sure your kindness is a blessing to them each day.

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    1. thank you for sharing your experience! your aunt sounds like a delightful woman!

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  5. A moving and reverent post, Joe. We make so many assumptions.... and it takes and kind and open heart - with healing hands attached - to see the beauty in people that others will see as broken no matter what. Sounds like you are gaining much wisdom from working there, and have enough wisdom already to see it!

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    1. thank you, valerianna. it has indeed been a life-altering experience. one which i continue to enjoy every day.

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  6. As one who also has been with the elderly, the lessons they teach are more valuable than any education I learned in school. Thank you for telling their stories and being a shining star in their lives. xo

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  7. What a wonderful post. They are truly lucky to have you (and you them) in their lives. When we come down to it, it is the moments and how we live them that count!
    XOXO Cat

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    1. yes. it is always the moments that we experience and how attentive we are to them that matters most!

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  8. Humbling, Joe. You are a good man, both for what you do, and how you choose to see the gift in it.

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  9. what a beautiful post. my dear great aunt had alzheimer's, and had this joy and abandon you describe. running around naked and giggling, being introduced to old friends & saying with laughter, "they tell me I know you, I'm sure you're a lovely person, but it's all gone now!"

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    1. it never ceases to amaze me to what degree they know that they no longer remember, but have learned to adapt and still hold onto that joy! your great aunt sounds like a lovely person!

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  10. wow... I visited my sister for about a year when she was on an Alzheimer's floor (she was there for rehab), so I have a real sense of what this place is like that you describe. I always felt such a clamor to leave. You are an angel.

    and, the idea of 'forgetting to judge' what I'm making is a potent one. Plan to sit with that for the rest of the week.

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    1. the cottages that i work in are part of the green house project, which is quite different than a nursing facility. they are homes, usually with less than 12 guests in each, that are designed to keep the "institutionalization" out of the guests experience. there are no gleaming waxed floors or antiseptic hallways in these. they are set up like large entertainment-minded homes...with an open kitchen, formal dining room, breakfast bar, fireplace, sun room and individual bedrooms with private bathrooms. staff is kept to a minimum and we wear street clothing rather than scrubs. the nurses visit, rather than stay in residence and run the show (the elder sharaths are specially trained cna's that manage the cottages and administer meds and cares). we stress family and living with dignity and love.

      i have worked in the nursing home on the campus, too, which is like what you described. i definitely prefer the cottages. but then, when it comes down to it, it is about the people, not the place, so if there weren't the cottages, i would be in the home doing the same ministry.

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    2. the setting would have eased some of what was awful about my sister's experience... sorry to have commented twice. I didn't get a message about comment being held and thought I'd made it vanish!

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  11. Thank you for your post. Yes, we shouldn't care so much about the past or the far away future...
    Good wishes from me,
    eva

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    1. thank you, eva! it is true...but we so often grasp at our past and into our future that we often forget that it is truly the present that matters!

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  12. Thank you for this post!
    Good wishes from me,
    eva

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  13. This is a beautiful post, Joe. I found that my mother who had been angry most of her life with me, finally found some peace when she could finally forget. It was a blessing. And may you find the courage and strength and peace to continue working with people suffering from Alzheimers.
    best, nadia

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    1. i'm so pleased your mother found that peace, nadia. it is a lovely place to be.

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