Maryland Aging in Community

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Caregiving, Creativity and Compassionate Listening

The Last Symphony

Mike Clark

You know something is amiss

When the conductor departs

Leaving the podium

And the orchestra confused

And lost.

Her neighborhood becomes

Alien territory

And she gets lost on her street.

In disarray, the orchestra flounders.

The string section walks out

En masse.

Her sense of routine is challenged.

Meals alone are toast and bananas.

The wind ensemble stoops blowing

Brassy and tinny harmonies.

Friends come by their appointed time

And she is still in her robe.

The percussion section stays

As the end nears.

Family watches over her

As a parent over a child.

The heart beat persists

Until exhausted and punched out.

She is stretched out on the sheets

To await the requiem

Of the last drum beat.

FallOne of the intentions we set for this Blog-is to exchange information at the heart level pertinent to Aging in Community.  Sharing about the deeper aspects of living throughout the lifespan helps all of us examine our intentions for aging well and for finding adequate support as we do so.  Stories of our hearts can offer ideas to each other that help us to prepare for our future. Stories are central to building community-this exchange of our struggles and joy and our innovations help us connect to each other. This inviting each member to be known and seen more is one of the wonderful opportunities in building a new community or enhancing an existing community.  Sometimes we call it the social glue of community.

One of my fellow poets, Mike Clark, shared a few poems that deal with caregiving and the death of his Mother.  We have heard from readers that these stories help to build a bridge between people from different ages and living in various ways of “Aging in Community”. We’d love to hear about opportunities to expand the social connections that have occurred in your neighborhood Village.

You might have noticed we have a side bar inviting guest bloggers to write on specific subjects.  For example one idea for this month is to write about friendships, one idea for next month is on the topic of Caregiving.  There are many resources for family caregivers we can find, support groups, newsletters on line, all sorts of resources.  This summer the Montgomery County Commission on Aging conducted a study on Caregiving and we will be posting some of those resources next month.

Community is about our relationships. Some of us are involved with various “intentional” communities, groups of belonging, book clubs, gatherings of a faith tradition, neighbors and lifelong friends. Many of us participate in groups of belonging related to creativity.

I was recently invited to join a group of women who knit and are affiliated with social psychology.    This wise-women, knitters have intentionally included members from several decades leading to all sorts of interesting life stories exchanged from the past and present accompanied by the sounds of knitting needles flying.  As I shared about my connection and work with Village communities this group of social psychologists were curious and interested.  We discovered one of the knitters actually lives within the boundaries of a functioning Village community so I was able to connect her to that group. Already engaged in a hands-on creative activity it seemed that our minds were easily open to creatively examining the ideas on Aging in Community that we were discussing.

We can learn so much from each other, whether we are connecting with new friends or long standing supporters.  Last week I was attending the American Evaluation Association meeting to present on some of our Villages research, and participate in examining how we can more accurately conduct evaluations with people who have disabilities or with other vulnerable populations.  While there I was able to visit my best friend from High School. Seeing my friend was not only about reminiscence of our younger days, but to exchange support and encouragement for our current caregiving roles as daughters with mothers struggling with dementia and fathers with health problems. Speaking about the sadness and fears of this process with candor and being met with tender compassion was a great comfort.

Sitting over supper we are stunned to learn how similar our parents lives have been, both couples in their mid 80’s now, from the Midwest, in lifelong marriages with the our mothers’ as wives more dependent on their husbands.  Now as the wives cognitive skills decrease we witness the strain on our fathers’ declining health status as the caregiving grows more difficult to manage for the whole family.  Poet Mike Clark offers another poem to track the darkness that can emerge in this caregiving process:

On Shore

Witnessing my mother

Sink into her shroud

Of misunderstanding

Is not too different

From standing ashore

To witness a drowning.

Some small measure of comfort comes from speaking the difficult truth about what we are witnessing as we observe the shifts in our beloved families. It is a profound comfort to share the story with another who remembers the past way a person’s life was lived and also grasps the present reality as vulnerability increases.  This exchange of the whole story is so important.

A Cat’s Meow

Mike Clark

Mother’s true wish

To grow old gracefully

Allowed her

To lie conveniently

About her age.

At 82, Mother was 72.

In her late eighties

Skin cancer and

Her steel white hair

Replaced her raven locks

And tanned look.

Time left her vulnerable

To the truth

But the corrosion

Failed to erode

Her lightness of being—

“Used to be, I was the cat’s meow.

Now I am just the alley cat.”

We would love to hear how innovations related to caregiving are happening in your community.  Are there creative partnerships between families and village volunteers? Does your community offer opportunities where creative pursuits have provided small groups of support and caring?  Let us know how your community has fostered friendships that share the deeper truths with non-judgment and compassion.

May we all find the special heart-friends who completely grasp the depths of own personal experience living in the midst of some of life ‘s most tender moments.

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