Emotional Memory

It was not talked about, I never saw the program or ticket, but I knew. I could remember.

When I was little my parents took me to see a local theatre production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s, Cinderella. I was too little to remember anything that happened, from where we sat in the theatre, to which theatre we were in, to what dress I wore, yet I remember. These memories are not from seeing the program, or photographs from the day, or having conversations about it with my parents. There was something special about that experience that tapped into my emotional memory, pulling me in and allowing me to become apart of its narrative, or for it to become apart of mine. The power of storytelling, sound, sight, smell, touch, and creativity all were engaged during that experience, that has allowed me, almost 30 years later to remember this live theatre experience. I think it is why, when asked about my “start” in theatre, in aging, in therapeutics, I respond with this answer, speaking to that time when my parents took me to see something that tapped into my emotional memory, my creativity, my imagination. This experience pulled out of me an emotional reaction, giving something that should have been forgotten, life. 

What is it about some elements of our life that we remember so vividly, so purely, so warmly without the aid of family stories, photographs, or other prompts that enriches our lives? This is it that allows each one of us to have experiences where are emotions run with such strength that it can almost outpace dementia? This is sort of a messy question, but truly, do we understand the full power of emotional memory? Do we know how we can use emotional memory to help someone living with dementia, live fully alive?

Early on in my work with dementia, I recognized the power emotional memory could hold, long before I knew anything about its research and support, the instinct and the results I saw were more than enough. As I worked to become relational with others in a way that would not require them to remember my name, title, the reason for being with them, I found ways to help them tap into that part of there lives, and frequently we found a common connection, a place of beauty, a place of warmth. The emotional memory, and engaging the senses, are, for me, the two pillars of successfully working with those living with dementia. Filled out with creativity, imagination, and seeing the person for all they have and can continue to be and become, these two pillars are powerful! I saw how when we created something new, together, even if it was a reflection on something we both loved, a bond was formed and even on the bad days when one would not remember me, I would bring up our shared connection and suddenly I was no longer someone to fear, to fight with, to be alarmed by, but someone to smile with, to hold hands with, to spend a moment with as we move to the next part of the day. In a small way, I was recreating that theatre experience for us, by creating something that didn’t require logical or linear thinking. I normally fight for logical and critical thinking, but this is an area where the emotions are the shining star. 

There is a great emphasis on improv and dementia right now. Programs are popping up all over the country and beyond. It is used both as a teaching tool for care partners, but also as programming in Memory Cafés, Life Enrichment calendars, and in partnership with community organizations. Last summer I wrote about these programs and my opinion about them remains strong. As we look for tools to help us understand emotional memory on a very simple level, engaging in improv workshops for those living with dementia shows us what each person can do, can remember, and can engage with and in. It always amazes me how someone can transition from not remembering much about their life, to telling me the full story of their college career, their parents, their 40th wedding anniversary, simply and clearly, by allowing the creativity and movement of play bring out stories that cause you to forget about dementia. These stories are not always joyful however, the stories of war vets often come out and haunt you as you move through the workshop and head home. It shows us where we are lacking in care for those living with dementia who are also veterans.

Early on in my work with dementia, I recognized the power emotional memory could hold, long before I knew anything about its research and support, the instinct and the results I saw were more than enough. As I worked to become relational with others in a way that would not require them to remember my name, title, the reason for being with them, I found ways to help them tap into that part of there lives, and frequently we found a common connection, a place of beauty, a place of warmth. The emotional memory, and engaging the senses, are, for me, the two pillars of successfully working with those living with dementia. Filled out with creativity, imagination, and seeing the person for all they have and can continue to be and become, these two pillars are powerful! I saw how when we created something new, together, even if it was a reflection on something we both loved, a bond was formed and even on the bad days when one would not remember me, I would bring up our shared connection and suddenly I was no longer someone to fear, to fight with, to be alarmed by, but someone to smile with, to hold hands with, to spend a moment with as we move to the next part of the day. In a small way, I was recreating that theatre experience for us, by creating something that didn’t require logical or linear thinking. I normally fight for logical and critical thinking, but this is an area where the emotions are the shining star. 

For A Time Such As This

We were created for a time such as this! In our ever-changing world, we were created with this moment as part of our narrative. As the Dementia Letters Project community, now is the time for which we will thrive together. Now is the time when you can share with younger generations the beauty of your strength, your joy, your hope, and the stories of your life.

The Dementia Letters Project was created for a time such as this! It was created as a way to share something we felt compelled to share about our dementia journey, for ourselves, for dementia, for our families, for our community. During this time I have been sending out my own letters to family, friends, and to residents in care communities, to share a moment of light in the darkness. 

As artists and storytellers, we were created for a time such as this! We were created to create and this moment has inspired or has provided us with the time, to create what our heart has longed to put out into the world. Some of us are creating new things each day, each hour, some of us are dreaming of the art we would like to create but have yet to open our ArtBin. No matter where you are, you are right where you need to be, doing what you need to do. Sometimes simply daydreaming about all the things that inspire us brings greater joy into our lives than actually creating something new. I trust that someday your art will make it out and on to your canvas, paper, or through your fingers and onto the keys. 

We were created for a time such as this! No, this is not a declaration of punishment, of despair, or ugliness. It is a declaration of the beauty of the human spirit to survive, thrive, and grow no matter what the world may look like at any given moment. This can be hard. It can be hard for everyone no matter what age or status in life one may be currently living. But, for the care partner, there is a special moment of prayer and gratitude that goes out to you! 

As family care partners your world has been thrown off, that routine you worked hard to develop and keep is no longer possible. Life has gone virtual and not all of us were equipped to make such a move. There are homes without a computer or iPad, or even an internet connection. Some families now have children home full-time needing assistance to attend school via online classes, with parents trying to care for their children and help their parents stay connected. Some programs don’t work via Zoom, which cannot simply flip the switch. Some programs can work, but we may be struggling to navigate the new world feeling disconnected, anxious, and out of sorts as we work a video call. And then there are our own emotions, worries, and health. We are navigating the dark unknown during a time such as this. 

As professional care partners, you are on the front lines, you are navigating a world that many of us may not understand. You are caring for our loved ones and community members, doing your best to make sure they don’t get sick while now trying to also figure out how to engage and create with the residents. You are meeting them, quite possibly, in true person-centered/relationship-centerd care form. You are learning new ways of becoming relational with those you serve. You are forced to become relational with the residents in ways beyond a task list, in ways beyond the role you initially signed up for when to took this job. And because of this, our care communities can make this moment a moment of transformation into a new way of living. Yet, this time is painful, dark, and scary. You may not see the growth, only the dwindling resources, the fear of getting sick yourself and bring it to your family at home or your residents. You fear a spread of illness, on top of the many other concerns you might have during a “normal” time. You are exploring a new world during a time such as this. 

We were created for a time such as this. We were created to grow, to transform, to love, and to care. We were created to create something new, be it in the fine arts, or in our community, or in the world of health care. Our differences have been magnified, but so has our collective humanity and goodness. We are walking the unknown journey towards an unknown end, but we are walking it together as human beings in communion with one another. While we see the true colors of many leaders and peers, disagreeing with or being encouraged by what we see, it is our task to respond with compassion, prayer, and understanding as they too are scared, struggling, and wondering if what they are doing is enough. Now is not the time to criticize, but to support and understand in a time such as this.

We were created for a time such as this, to dream and to hope, to find joy and to allow ourselves to mourn. The world has been through darker times, so we frequently hear, and that does not always help. But we have the strength of our human spirit, and we can see the light along this unknown journey, and together we will walk to support each other, to encourage each other, and to live during a time such as this. 

We Are An Easter People!

Easter morning has passed, the tomb is empty, and the celebrations we had in our new small way have come to a close. We as a world may have not found our collective Easter Sunday yet, but that does not mean joy cannot ring as loud as the church bells on Sunday morning.

We are an Easter People! 

We are an Easter People! 

No events of the world can take that Truth away from us. No events of the world can take away Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. No events of the world can put out the light that shines only because of Christ. 

Our Lenten Journey was not what we expected. Our Holy Week strange and unknown. Our Easter lacking in its usual earthly splendor. For me, it was an Easter without the usual beautiful holy moments, yet it still held joy, hope, and beauty. It was an Easter without Hughes Chocolates (oh how I miss you!) and without the great music that fills the church, yet, it was an Easter of hope. I recognized many friends finding new ways to make Easter special this year. We need that! I saw families still dress up and call in family that could not physically be at the table to share a meal. I saw parents find new traditions filled with laughter and fun. I saw families come together in prayer and share with friends how it brought the family closer together. I saw people get creative, prayerful, and seek light in the darkness. This brings us hope. This shows us that Christ’s death and resurrection still live in our hearts with the recognition of the gift and beauty of that act. This brings joy, as it brings color to our strange world. This brings faith as we find new ways to grow in faith when the very strength of that faith is being challenged. 

I invite all of you to continue this journey of faith through the Easter Octave and Season, for it is this time, without a day set aside when we risk losing what we have gained, what we have created. So when the glimmer of Easter starts to fade, remember, “Do not abandon yourself to despair. We are Easter people and Hallelujah is our song.” – JPII

I will see you later this week when our regular Dementia Letters posts resume. Thank you for walking this Lenten Journey with me.

Our Holy Week Journey

It is Holy Week. It will look like no other Holy Week we ever expected or wanted to live. Separated from the sacraments, the traditions, the beauty of this time does not mean that we are separated from Christ and the greatness of the events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. We are called during this time to find Christ in ourselves, find ways to live in holiness, in prayer,  in beauty. We are called to seek our own cross, ask God for the strength to carry it, and ask God to take our sufferings and do good with them, offering them up for those in our life who might need our help, or the souls of those whom we have lost, or for the world. Take up your cross and follow the Lord! 

Actions:

Rest in the Lord, for He is waiting with open arms to hold you close.

Allow God to nourish you when you feel dry, for He desires to see you Fully Alive.

Rely only on Christ when you are empty to provide you with the graces you need to move closer to Him.

Be open to the Holy Spirit to guide you when you are lost, to help you navigate times of hardship, crisis, tensions, and loss. Ask the Holy Spirit to keep you in line with the will of God.

Find a moment of Joy each hour of the day, each morning when you wake up, each week when you would normally be gathered in faith.

Create with the Lord! Create the light we seek. Create room to continue to grow in faith, hope, charity, through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

Co-Create with God

Rest in the sharing of a meal, the reflections of Christs Passion, and the Waiting for Easter Morning. 

This Week’s Journal Question:

In what ways can I create space for the holiness of this week in my own home?

Prayer:

Lord, take this week and transform it into beautiful holiness, creating in me not a heart of anxiety, but a heart of peace and rejoicing in your great gifts.  Amen. 

Our Lenten Journey-Week Five

For many of us we will not have the Holy Week and Easter we wanted, have come to know or would desire to have. Fellow Christians from around the world mourn with you. In this last week before Holy Week, I cannot help but think how we can be co-creators with God to make these last few days, and next week special, life-giving, and holy.

At the Easter Vigil Mass, we hear of the Creation Story and are reminded that God is the Great Creator. From Him, all life is born. He also created us to create and invites us to co-create with Him to live fully alive the Vocation He set before us. Take time this week to plan how you would like to live the journey through Holy Week and ask God to help you find the spirit of faith, hope, and joy that we have come to love about the traditions of this time. Invite Him into your hearts and minds, into your homes, families, Zoom calls. Co-create something beautiful with God!

Actions:
Rest in the Lord, for He is waiting with open arms to hold you close.
Allow God to nourish you when you feel dry, for He desires to see you Fully Alive.
Rely only on Christ when you are empty to provide you with the graces you need to move closer to Him.
Be open to the Holy Spirit to guide you when you are lost, to help you navigate times of hardship, crisis, tensions, and loss. Ask the Holy Spirit to keep you in line with the will of God.
Find a moment of Joy each hour of the day, each morning when you wake up, each week when you would normally be gathered in faith.
Create with the Lord! Create the light we seek. Create room to continue to grow in faith, hope, charity, through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Co-Create with God

This Week’s Journal Question:
How can I open up my life to co-create with God during this time and throughout my life? What have I created with God in the past?

Prayer:
I invite you, Lord, to come and create with me during this time and always. You are the Great Creator, help me to bring beauty and goodness into my life.

Our Lenten Journey – Week Four (The Great Lent)

These Lenten reflections have been knocked off their original theme and arc, and have shifted in times of need and change. We are living our Lenten journey in ways we could not imagine before this time. The Great Lent. How are we remaining open to the will of God? How are we opening ourselves up to the possibilities of this time?

God has permitted this time to occur. That is clear, so, as a community of people going through this BOTH collectively AND individually, what are we doing to remain open to all that can still happen in these days of distancing, fear, and dark unknowns? It can be easy to fall into the darkness, but we must resist that urge and find the light that never dies. Seek out spiritual friendship. Find a spiritual director. Connect with fellow parishioners. Reach out to me. We are a community of faith, and nothing can destroy that. We can help each other navigate this Great Lent as artists, as creators, as children of God.

During these past two weeks, I have felt that for many of us we have never experienced a time that is fit for the imagination, creativity, the artist quite like this time. Each generation, each year provides new unknowns, darkness, light, challenges, opportunities, closed doors, and invitations. With God as our Creator, the Ultimate Artist, we too were created to be artists and creators. Two weeks ago I put out a call to create and to share in your creation. What have you created during this time that brings the glory of God into the darkness? What have you discovered about your faith, your relationship with God, with others, with yourself during this time? Have you discovered a spiritual friendship in being creative?

Last week we focused on seeking Joy. This week we refocus on creating for and with the Great Creator. We are over halfway through our 2020 Lenten Journey and how are we doing? No matter the world’s curveballs we can still draw closer to Christ, still prepare our hearts for Easter, still pray, give alms, and fast. How are you doing?

Actions:
Rest in the Lord, for He is waiting with open arms to hold you close.
Allow God to nourish you when you feel dry, for He desires to see you Fully Alive.
Rely only on Christ when you are empty to provide you with the graces you need to move closer to Him.
Be open to the Holy Spirit to guide you when you are lost, to help you navigate times of hardship, crisis, tensions, and loss. Ask the Holy Spirit to keep you in line with the will of God.
Find a moment of Joy each hour of the day, each morning when you wake up, each week when you would normally be gathered in faith.
Create with the Lord! Create the light we seek. Create room to continue to grow in faith, hope, charity, through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

This Week’s Journal Question:
How am I opening up myself to create a new with Christ during this time? How am I taking advantage of this Great Lent? What can I do in the remaining two weeks before Easter to embrace the spirit of the season and the joy of what is on the horizon?

Prayer:
Remind us oh Lord that you are the great Creator and that you have made us in your image, to be creators for your glory, your love, your joy. Help us finish these last remaining days of Lent strong in faith, knowing you are a God of great mercy and love.

Our Lenten Journey – Week Three

We are approaching Laetare Sunday, a moment during our Lenten journey when we remember the joy of our identity as an Easter People. It is a day of celebration. This year, for many of us this is the first or second Sunday we are not gathering as a faith community. We are unable to come together and the world feels a little darker, this Sunday a little colder. Because of this, we have an even more beautiful reason to find joy in the darkness.

This pandemic truly has shifted and played with all of our lives, in full ways. It has attempted to destroy the temporal needs and the spiritual needs each one of us has. I have heard stories of children in tears because they don’t know when they will be able to receive the Eucharist next, of families worrying about how the food will arrive on their table with lost work and wages, of feeling like we have been thrust into the unknown with a God who has abandoned us. I want you to know that God is with us, that our identity as His sons and daughters has not diminished or changed. We are marching into the unknown and we this week are called to joy.

Our Joy is beautiful. It will guide us through life’s twists and turns. It will help us cross the threshold of who we are now and who we are becoming, of what the world was into what the world can be. While we are called to sit in our homes we are called to joy. While we work at our jobs to help this country continue to put food on the table, remain safe, get from place to place, and help us in health we are called to Joy. Joy can fight fear in ways only God knows. Joy can be the light that helps a weary health care worker continue. Joy can be the assistants that can lighten the burden of our times. Joy can be what brings us closer to God when our faith practices and traditions are vanishing.

All that I shared last week is still true. God is still with us. Our Lenten journey and hopes are calling us to be flexible and adaptive. We are still called to give alms, to pray, and to fast but we were never called to rigidity or told we were failures if we didn’t keep our Lenten promises just as we have stated on Ash Wednesday. How are you being adaptive on your Lenten Journey?

Actions:
Rest in the Lord, for He is waiting with open arms to hold you close.
Allow God to nourish you when you feel dry, for He desires to see you Fully Alive.
Rely only on Christ when you are empty to provide you with the graces you need to move closer to Him.
Be open to the Holy Spirit to guide you when you are lost, to help you navigate times of hardship, crisis, tensions, and loss. Ask the Holy Spirit to keep you in line with the will of God.
Find a moment of Joy each hour of the day, each morning when you wake up, each week when you would normally be gathered in faith.

This Week’s Journal Question:
Where did you find joy today? How will you seek it out tomorrow? How will you be joy to one another?

Prayer:
Lord, in this time of dark unknowns, bring rest to the weary, temporal and spiritual assistance to those in need, and joy to each heart and mind. Guide the hands of those who care for us. Guide the minds of those who are leading us. Guide us, oh Lord! For in you, we have no needs, no worries, no burdens. In you we find rest.

Our Lenten Journey – Week Two

We move through this second week of Lent on a different note than that of two weeks ago, on Ash Wednesday, when we felt the promise of the season. I have heard from some of you that between this election season, the fears of the Coronavirus, and those fears leading to the decision to essentially cancel Mass, as well as many other faith formation events this Lent have left you feeling dry, empty, lost. I understand these feelings and share with you in some, and I wonder, is this exactly where God is calling us to be this Lenten season? No, He does not want us to fear, to worry, to hate or be in tension with our neighbors because of political views, and I am sure He does not want anyone to have to suffer or die from the health issues we are facing, but maybe this is where we are meant to be. Dry, Empty, Lost. God can do a lot with these feelings and He can full us up in ways that we were once empty. He can strengthen us through our dryness, He can guide us on a better path, away from our meanderings through the desert.

Last week we talked about using this Lenten journey as a period of rest. How are you doing? Have you allowed yourself to Rest in the goodness of the Lord? Have you allowed yourself to relax in beautiful conversation with Him who died for our sins? How can you continue to rest in the Lord and allow him to fill you up, nourish you, and guide you? It feels like we have been saying for decades that we are a no longer a society of faith, but that of the secular. But, are you, in your family, work, neighborhood leaning into the secular world? Or do you stand with the Holy Spirit and the communion of Saints to live the life God created you, me, us to live? Is it our lost hope that allows us to feel so easily dry, empty, and lost every election cycle, or time of crisis? How can we use these moments we are in to help us move in faith?

Actions:
Rest in the Lord, for He is waiting with open arms to hold you close.
Allow God to nourish you when you feel dry, for He desires to see you Fully Alive.
Rely only on Christ when you are empty to provide you with the graces you need to move closer to Him.
Be open to the Holy Spirit to guide you when you are lost, to help you navigate times of hardship, crisis, tensions, and loss. Ask the Holy Spirit to keep you in line with the will of God.

This week Journal Question:
How will you use these feelings, that find so much collective truth, in our world today as gifts for the Lord to strengthen, nourish, guide, and love you?

Prayer:
Come, Lord Jesus, come with the Holy Spirit to protect, guide and assist us on our Lenten Journey. May we find rest in you. May we grow closer to you. May we use these feelings we have about our lives and the world around us as gifts for the Father’s hands, to heal us, and form in us a pure heart.

5 Years of an Idea

5 years ago today, I had the idea for the Dementia Letters Project. At the time, it was simply a program, a way to connect with others along their dementia journey. I did not know where it would take me, or even if it was going to be a successful program. 5 years later, it is my work. It is the vehicle I use to live the unique purpose for which I have been created to live. As I think about where I can go from here, I am filled with excitement. Thank you to all the beautiful people I have met along the way, to be people who have mentored me, and the individuals who have been my true guides.

Come and join me on Social Media @dementialetters (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) on Pinterest at Dementia Letters Project, and join our Virtual Community via the Private Facebook Group (linked to the Facebook Page,) and join our email list at http://bit.ly/DementiaLetters

Our Lenten Journey – Week One

This first full week of Lent has always been special for me. The newness of the season has not yet dissipated, and the promise of spring is tangible. Our Lenten journey of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are still fresh and likely intact. It is exciting and I sit in awe of the faith transformation that is in front of me if only I reach out to touch it. Reaching out to touch. If you have worked with me over the past few days or are on my email list for our Monthly Memos, you know that I made a change around here. The St. Dymphna Dementia Ministry is now The Hem of Christ. Much like the woman reaching out to touch the hem of Christ, believing she will be healed if she simply touches His garment, so too are those living with dementia reaching out to you and me. I have long since dreamt of finding a way to reach back out to these individuals in a new way. It will take a visionary and creative approach to shift the current narrative, to reach back out and to help heal. We learn through the beauty of art. We connect through our shared stories. We find the hem of Christ in one another. The details of how this ministry will take action will unfold over this next year, starting with this Lenten Journey. Join me in faith, friendship, and service to those reaching out!

Last week I encouraged each one of you to pick one thing, to keep your Lent simply yet meaning full. Have you thought of something? Do you know what you are doing over these 40 days? How will you pray, give alms, and fast?

Our Lenten journey, especially as care partners should be about rest or at least offer elements of rest. Christ alone can do something with nothing, but, we must be filled. We need to find ways to fill ourselves physically, socially, spiritually, emotionally. The great gift of this season is that we can fill all four of these elements through our faith journey. It seems odd to talk about being full in a season that has fasting at its core. Yet, in our fasting we allow ourselves to be filled more and more with Christ who strengthens us. When we live for and with Christ, we are becoming who we were uniquely created to become. We can give and serve those we are in this moment caring for each day. How will you allow yourself to fast so that you may become full? Resting in the Lord can be a form of fasting. By fasting from the world around us, the demands of email, social media, etc, and sitting in silence, with a rosary in hand, or in adoration, in a bible study with friends, at a prayer service, we are allowing ourselves to be filled. There is a science behind this (because God is a creative and design genius), and in doing this, by resting in the Lord, our bodies and our minds, are cleared and healed, and our relationships (because we have taken time to be in relationship with God) will flourish. We find ourselves healing body, mind, spirit, and communally.

Actions:
Rest in the Lord, for He is waiting with open arms to hold you close.

This week Journal Question:
How will you allow yourself to Rest in the goodness of the Lord this week?

Prayer:
Jesus, open your arms wide to hold us close so that we may find rest in You. Help us discover the freedom to live for You alone, to be relational with You, and to take the time we need to best be of service to You and my family in Christ.