Tag Archives: spirituality

Finding the Spiritual in the Early-Stage Journey: Evianne Fogel’s Inspiring Message

forgeting

“Mrs. Fogel, you are forgetting stuff all the time,” one of Evianne Fogel’s Job Corps students told her.

Evianne was 62-years-old and she had sensed something was amiss. But she didn’t know that her fellow teachers had been covering for her. She didn’t realize that some of her behavior in the classroom was not appropriate.

“They were gentle with me when they told me I needed to quit teaching,” she says.

Her doctor’s visits confirmed she had serious memory issues. She sensed the bitter truth before the doctor told her: she had Alzheimer’s Disease.

Learning How to be Home Alone

woman aloneTeaching was a huge part of her life. Evianne was a pioneer in working with disadvantaged children and she’d won national notice for her innovative ideas and techniques. She’d traveled the country setting up Job Corps education programs.

Suddenly, instead of having a fascinating job with engaging co-workers and challenging students, she had the four walls of her Cincinnati living room.

“When you’re working all the time, you fantasize how wonderful it’s going to be when you retire,” Evianne says. “But at first, it felt like death for me. I’d sit on my couch and amuse myself by seeing the patterns in the stucco walls. I felt I was put in a chamber with no one else around me. I was used to working and I didn’t how to be in a house all day long.“

Finding Grace in Every Tree Branch

Evianne has a supportive husband who tried to help her adjust. At first, she felt angry and sad. Then, she tapped into her innate resilience.

“I have a sense of higher power,” she says. “I pray and I do feel like there is grace and forgiveness; I think it’s in every tree branch, if we are willing to receive it.”tree

Evianne had to learn to be alone. It was a difficult moment-by-moment, day-by-day lesson. She practiced talking walks and doing yoga at home.

She also poured more time into her music. She adores playing the piano and volunteers one day a week, giving music lessons. And she’s started on the book she’s always wanted to write, about the amazing inner city children she’s been honored to teach.

Evianne views this time as a gift. She knows she repeats things; she is easily lost and often forgetful. But she is embracing this journey as a chance to deepen her spiritual connection with her higher power and with herself.

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

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Let Go and Notice the Answers

For me, part of being a care partner is letting go of worry and control and being open to intuition and flow.  Here is a story from my life where I almost didn’t notice I was “in the flow!” Has this ever happened to you?

Opening to Answerslet go

 “Some people think it’s holding that makes one strong — sometimes it’s letting go.” -Unknown 

Driving to the writer’s conference, my hands were sweating and my throat was tight. I had given workshops before, but I felt very nervous about this one. What if I had nothing to say? What if nobody learned anything? What if they looked at me with bored and indifferent eyes?

As I drove down 55th street, I thought, “You have prepared and you are going to do your best. Now it’s time to ‘let go and let God.’”  I took a deep breath and felt a little better.

Then my inner worrywart boomed, “You could have tried harder, practiced more, done more research. You don’t have one original thing to say.” By the time, I pulled into the parking lot the steering wheel was damp with my sweat.worry

The conference was held in a mid-town church and the lobby was bustling with people.

“Your room is down the stairs and to your right,” the woman in charge told me.

I walked down the stairs and to the right. I saw a bathroom and a coat closet. I  opened one door into a maintenance room, stacked with toilet paper and paper towels, brooms and mops.  Then I noticed another room: tucked into an obscure corner — it was a small chapel. I walked in, taking in the serenity, the rich maroon color of the chairs, the soothing pattern of the stained glass windows. I felt calm and centered in this room.  I tiptoed to the pulpit and stood behind it, like I had something holy to say.stained glass

Then I realized, I was going to be late for my class, Frantically, I retraced my steps, but I couldn’t find any room large enough for a class. I raced upstairs and found the woman again.

“I can’t find my room,” I told her. “There’s only a chapel in that area.”

“That is your room,” she said, “You’re teaching in the chapel.”

I walked back down slowly, smiling all the way.

My prayer, to let go and let God, had been answered in a most concrete way. I had almost been too busy worrying to notice.balloon

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An Alzheimer’s Holiday Blessing

As my mother’s Alzheimer’s progressed, her spiritual openness increased.

This is an excerpt from my book Love in the Land of Dementia that describes Mom’s new way of celebrating the holidays.

**

jingle bellsWe roll back into the facility’s dining room just as the show is ready to start. The singer, Thelda, kicks off her shoes and presses play on the boom box. Above the cheerful sound track, she sings Jingle Bells. She dances across the room with the remnants of ballroom steps. She stops in front of Mom and sings right to her. She gets on her knees, so she can look into Mom’s eyes, and keeps singing. Mom notices her and smiles a little.

Thelda moves on, singing to each of the patients gathered around, so intent on making a connection that she often forgets the words.

“Is it all right for your Mom to come to Christmas holiday events?” the activity director had asked me, when Mom moved into the skilled care portion of the nursing home.

“Yes, I’d like her to go to any activities. She likes the extra energy.”

challahI think Mom would approve of my decision, even though she has never celebrated Christmas. Growing up, her immigrant mother held on to the Jewish spirit of her home, kneading dough for Friday evening challah, observing each holiday and prayer period in her own way. Some orthodox women followed the religious law that commanded a small piece of the dough be burned as an offering to God. My grandmother was poor; she did not believe in burning good food, regardless of tradition. So she sacrificed a portion of the dough to her youngest daughter, my mother Fran. She created a “bread tail,” leftover dough that she baked, then smeared with butter and sprinkled with sugar . When Mom used to talk about her mother, she always mentioned this special treat.

Even when I was growing up, and we were the only Jewish family in our neighborhood, my mother still did not sing Christmas song. She let the holiday rush by her, like a large train, whooshing past and leaving her behind.

Now, I am singing Christmas carols to my Mom for the first time and she is smiling. She has moved beyond the place where the religions are different, beyond the place where she wants to separate the dough and make a sacrifice for tradition. Her new tradition is anyone who can make her smile.Fran

With each song, from White Christmas, to Silver Bells, to Frosty the Snowman, Thelda moves back to Mom, tapping her, acting sillier and sillier. Each time, Mom lifts her head and widens her mouth for a second.

For her finale, Thelda puts on a big red nose and sings Rudolph. When she dances in front of Mom with that scarlet nose, Mom laughs, her face a miracle in pure enjoyment. I laugh too, so delighted to see Mom engaged and absorbed.

Two weeks from now, I will bring a menorah and candles into my mother’s room. My father and I will have a short Chanukah ceremony with Mom. She will pick at the shiny paper covering the Chanukah gelt (chocolate candy disguised as money). She will slump over in her chair. But she will come back to life when she sees me, her only daughter, wearing a big red nose as I light the menorah.menorahHere’s to a meaningful and fun holiday season.

I look forward to connecting with you when I resume blogging in early January.

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Six Spiritual Practices For Living with a Diagnosis of Dementia

Normally, you can put my friend Vicki Stoecklin in any city and she will easily get her bearings. From Paris to Dubai to Marrakesh, Vicki is used to working in and making her way around foreign countries.

So, at age 58, when she started getting lost in her own city, she knew something was seriously wrong.

Vicki had been plagued with a series of chronic physical ailments and she figured she’d deal with whatever this new issue was.Image 1

But she was caught off when the neurologist said bluntly, “You have dementia.”

“What am I supposed to do?” Vicki said.

“Live your life,” he said.

Learning to Live with Dementia

Initially, ”living life” was a huge challenge. She had trouble remembering where she’d put things; her feelings were disoriented. She could no longer drive and or do simple math. Her vision played tricks on her: she saw black holes where there were none. And she felt isolated from her community and friends.

But Vicki had a wealth of inner strength and resources. When she told me about her spiritual practices, I was inspired and moved. Here are a few of the ideas she uses to center and care for herself.

Learning Self-Compassion

“I learned to have compassion for myself,” she says. “If I’m having a hard time concentrating on a book, I stop and do something comforting, instead of pushing myself.”

Using Family Treasures to Encourage Contemplation Image

Vicki enjoys contemplating her grandmother’s hand made quilt, which hangs on the wall of Vicki’s meditation room. “She probably had Alzheimer’s when she stitched those squares together,” Vicki says.

Inviting out the Inner Artist

Vicki uses crayons, watercolors, and colored pencils to explore her own artistic process.

“My depth and visual perception is off, so my work is abstract,” she says. “I also find it meditative to color labyrinths and mazes.”

Opening the Heart to Spiritual Texts

Vicki has a number of trusted books she calls upon.

One favorite is Peace in the Storm: Daily Meditations and Prayers for Those Affected with Chronic Illness.  

“This book has been a great support to me,” Vicki says. “It’s about finding your relationship with God during the challenges of ongoing illness.” Another book that spoke to Vicki was Proof Of Heaven by Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who writes about his near-death experience. She also frequently reads Psalms.

Praying With and For Others

Vicki has a small box that she puts little prayers in for her grandson and her daughter. She has become a chaplain at her church and often prays for others. She also finds comfort in using the 24-hour prayer service at Silent Unity

Documenting Her Life Story

She has created two memory books — one for her work and one for her life. “These books are also reminders of the many happy memories over my lifetime,” she says.

*****

Q 4 U 

What are some ways you incorporate spirituality into your life?

If you’d like to contact Vicki, you may email her at Vicki vickiwhllg@aol.com

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