Monthly Archives: May 2015

Making a List of What’s Going Right

I started my gratitude practice as my mother was wading into dementia, as a way to stay connected, compassionate, and sane. The more I notice the good things, the happier I seem to be. I really resonated with this blog from my friend Karen Rowinsky and I wanted to share it with you.

 Making a List of What’s Going Right

From Guest Blogger Karen Rowinsky

Feeling overwhelmed?

Can’t catch a break?

Nothing seems to be going your way?

If you are having one of those days, weeks, or months, this tip is for you.

gloomyInstead of reciting to yourself, or others, the list of events that are stressing you out, try documenting the things that are going right.

Start with real things that are going right like:

  • Even though my head hurts, my feet don’t.
  • I don’t know where the mortgage payment will come from but at least no one in the family is sick.
  • My spouse is really getting on my nerves but at least I know he or she will be there in a pinch.
  • Stress at work is getting me down but it’s not raining and I can get outside for a breather.

Once you have gotten some “at leasts…..” on your list, then begin adding things that are positive or funny:

  • I have good friends.
  • My dog loves me.
  • I have food to eat today.
  • I’m having a good hair day.
  • No one has “unfriended” me on Facebook lately.

imagesI’m not making light of your troubles. I am suggesting a way that you can get some relief during a time that is challenging. Self care even for a few minutes is better than none.    #

Karen Rowinsky, LSCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker.

 Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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Trusting The Loss Of Your Identity

I met Mary O’Malley when I interviewed her for an article in Natural Awakenings Magazine. She inspired me then and she continues to inspire me. I am honored to share an abridged version of her post with you.

Trusting The Loss Of Your Identity

From Guest Blogger Mary O’Malley, author of What’s In the Way IS the Way

A friend of mine lost her husband about a year ago. She was his caretaker for many years, and before that, she cared for her ailing parents. She feels like she doesn’t know who she is anymore and is trying to figure out what she is supposed to be doing next. She feels like her identity has been taken away. I believe just the opposite is happening. Life has taken away the caretaker role so she can get to know who she really is.

butterflyI too have experienced what it is like to have the old identity ripped away. It feels like a butterfly whose wings are wet and cannot move. Often times our self-worth is tied to how much we accomplish or how much we can get done. When part of our identity is taken away from us, it is painful and scary. And our poor little mind goes crazy because it has always found a sense of safety through the illusion that it is in control. The mind is a tool for maneuvering through reality, but it is not reality.

I believe Life is preparing us for being birthed back into the vast spaciousness of who we truly are. But, it can be confusing and scary for the ego. As the Tibetan Lama Chögyam Trungpa Rinoche says, “If there were no confusion, there would be no wisdom. Chaos should be regarded as really good news.” When we lose a part of our old identify, there can be so much confusion and grief that it feels like death. But, actually something new is being born. Remember that, although birth is wonderful, it is not neat and pretty. A human birth has pee and poop and blood, and it is painful. So it is important to do our Lamaze breathing, whether we are birthing a child or Life is birthing us! We can resist this process, or we can recognize that Life knows what it is doing as it takes this away and that away.

The next time you feel challenged, try asking Life for help by saying, “Help me through this passage, and show me how to see what you are showing me so I can be healed to my core.”

To read the entire blog, visit:  http://www.maryomalley.com/2015/04/05/trusting-the-loss-of-your-identity-2/

To be further inspired by Mary and her work, visit: http://www.maryomalley.com/books/

 Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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Using Movement Therapy to Engage the Brain and Ignite Imagination and Conversation

 “We see in order to move; we move in order to see.”  — William Gibson

Seven people circle around the brightly colored piece of cloth, holding its edges and shaking it to the beat of I Love You For Sentimental Reasons.

“What does this fabric remind you of?” asks Natasha Goldstein-Levitas a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania based registered dance/movement therapist who reguarly works with these memory care residents.

“We’re shaking out a tablecloth,” one woman says, giving the cloth a brisk tug.

“We’re hanging clothes outside to dry,” says another.

“We’re cutting up onions for potato salad,” says another.

“When might we eat potato salad?” Natasha asks.4th of july

“A Fourth of July picnic,” a man answers.

Everyone lowers the cloth to the floor and they discuss who might be at the picnic. Perhaps an old friend, a brother, a spouse, a grandchild. When the conversation wanes, Natasha moves around the circle, offering each person a squirt of coconut-scented hand sanitizer and rubbing it into their palms. As Natasha gently massages the fragrant lotion into the hands of a woman who rarely talks or participates, Natasha asks, “What does this fragrance mind you of.”

The woman looks right at her and says, “Hawaii.”

Inviting People Into the Movement

“Any kind of movement can stimulate memory and creativity,” Natasha says. “Movement therapy is based on the principle that the mind and body are connected. It’s about helping the person feel empowered. I try to capitalize on the strengths of each person. We celebrate small successes, even if it’s just on making eye contact, taking deeper breaths, and saying a word.”

She concentrates on simple and focused movements, such as opening and closing the fingers and stretching arms overhead. She narrates every movement and frequently reminds people to breathe deeply.

clementinesSometimes food is integral to the movement. Natasha brings in a basket of Clementines and asks each person to choose one. They hold the fruits, gently squeezing them. They notice how each piece of fruit is unique. Natasha asks questions, such as. “What other orange objects can you think of? What does the aroma remind you of?” While they talk, they massage their arms by rolling the Clementine’s up and down.

In addition to physical movement, Natasha’s activities engage the senses, incorporating textures, aromas, colors, sounds, and tastes.         #

Natasha Goldstein-Levitas, 
R-DMT is a Registered Dance/Movement Therapist with over 14 years of experience working with high functioning to severely cognitively and physically impaired adults and older adults. Natasha’s recent writing will appear as a chapter in: Brooke, S.L. & Myers, C.E. (Eds.). (In press). The use of the creative therapies in treating grief/loss.   http://natashagoldstein.com/

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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Celebrating My Mother

Here is a story celebrating mothers from my book, Love in the Land of Dementia.

mother and daughter

My friend Karen gives me a gift: she says, “Tell me about your mother.”

We are sitting in a quiet mid-afternoon café and I let the question sink into me.

When friends occasionally ask me, “How is your mother doing?” I have different answers, depending on the situation. If we are in one of those conversations that are like confetti in brisk wind, I say, “She’s okay.”

If we are sitting across from each other and my friend is looking right at me, I answer, “She’s pretty deep into Alzheimer’s.”

“Does she recognize you?” she might ask.

“No, but she may recognize I am a person she likes,” I answer.

That usually ends that conversation.

But “Tell me about your mother,” is an invitation I don’t usually get.

“What would you like to know?” I ask.

She stirs her iced mocha. “Whatever you want to tell me,” she says softly. “I would like to know about her life and her interests.”

Since my mother has been in the nursing home with Alzheimer’s, I have seldom talked about the person she used to be. Occasionally my father and I reminisce about family vacations and outings. I sometimes ask Dad questions about our growing up days and the early days of their courtship. Senior woman gardeningBut I rarely think about the woman I knew all my life, the mother, grandmother, artist, gardener, compassionate friend, avid reader, bird-watcher, early morning walker, lemon-meringue pie baker. That woman is gone and I have spent a lot of energy learning to know and appreciate the woman who now commandeers her body.

As I consider what I want to tell Karen, I remember visiting my mom’s best friend, Bel, in California when I was a teenager. Bel, who was spunky and adventurous in a way that seemed so different from my conservative mother, drove me from Berkeley to the small resort where I would work as a chambermaid for the summer.

“Do you know how I met your mom?” she asked me, as we drove down the winding roads, past fragrant stands of eucalyptus trees.

“In Iceland, during the World War II,” I said. I had heard stories of the two of them taking a break from their work in the hospital by skiing, then stopping for a soak in a hot springs.

“No, we met earlier in Chicago. We were both nurses working the 12-hour night shift. The hospital had a room with a couple of bunk beds so we could rest on breaks. One night I walked in there and heard the most heart-breaking sobbing. It was Frances, crying her eyes out. I asked her what was wrong and she said, ‘Nothing.’”

I smiled. That sounded like Mom, never wanting to admit anything was wrong.

“Then I asked her again and she sobbed out that her husband Sam had died six months ago from pneumonia. She was so sad she didn’t know if she could go on. A bunch of other nurses and I were going to Florida for a short vacation and I persuaded your mother to join us. But as it turned out, we never went; a week later I decided to join the Army and I encouraged her to come along. We’ve been best friends ever since.”

imagesWhen I heard this story at the age of 17, I was too young to fathom my mother’s grief and despair. By the time I told Karen the story, I had some sense of what my mother must have gone through.

“Your Mom was really brave, to serve in the Army during wartime,” Karen says.

I feel a little swell of pride. Mom’s tales of traveling in the darkest night on the troop ship, with bombs falling nearby, were so familiar I had never considered her bravery and courage.

Now I tell Karen how my father, encouraged by Bel’s husband, wrote Mom a letter, telling her he was ready to marry a nice Jewish girl. Was she interested? Was she available?

After some correspondence, Mom surprised herself by agreeing to meet him in Chicago. At the end of the week, my father asked her to marry him. She considered the offer for three weeks and accepted. Their whirlwind romance was fueled by practicality.

“What a great story,” Karen says. “Your mother must be an amazing woman.”

Sparked by Karen’s interest, I let myself feel my love for my mother as she used to be. I am in tears by the time our conversation ends.

“Thank you for asking me about my mother,” I say to Karen.

“Your stories make me want to call my own mom and hear her stories again.”

As I drive home, I think of more “mom” stories to share with my children and my brother. I see myself, along with my brother and father, as the carrier of my mother’s sacred legacy. I imagine myself tenderly fanning the embers, adding dry leaves and crumbled paper, creating a blaze with each memory. I realize I don’t have to give up Mom’s old self: I can be her historian and her scribe, carrying her stories with me, and making sure they live on.

fire

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey. 

 

 

 

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