This week I am out at the AgeSong communities of San Francisco and Oakland, singing, speaking and working on the Presence Project. I’ll be teaming up with mindfulness expert Marguerite Manteau-Rao, AgeSong CEO Dr. Nader Shabahangi and Dr. Leslie Ross of UCSF to develop and test a curriculum that teaches both my experiential view of dementia (which we here call “forgetfulness”), along with mindfulness training for care partners. The goal is to help professional care partners make “in the moment” connections with the people they care for, and we hope to see improved well-being among all as a result.
Nader has been a co-author of two wonderful books, published by Elders Academy Press (www.elderspress.org). The first, Deeper into the Soul (co-authored by Dr. Bogna Zymkiewicz) explores the concept of shifting from “disease” (dementia) to “shifting experience” (forgetfulness) in a graphic book style that revolves around conversations of four characters: A sage, his trainee, a psychologist and a physician. Together they take the reader deep into new territory in how we view people who have been diagnosed with “Alzheimer’s” or other types of dementia.
Here are some examples of the insights in this amazing book:
“There is nothing wrong with people who forget what we think is worth remembering. Be curious about what you don’t understand. They live in different realities, and thus they have much to teach us.”
“No matter how many brain cells disappear, human beings are still spiritual and emotional mysteries searching for their purpose and meaning in life.”
“Approach the person with forgetfulness as if you were just about to enter a sacred space. Communication is not only about content. It is also–sometimes most of all–about feelings.”
“Old people often use an object like a wedding ring to symbolize something from the past. A person in present time, like yourself, can represent a mother or a sister. When old people combine one thought with another, they are often very poetic.”
You can guess why this book resonates with me. It also includes enlightened views of distress and some basic science background as well. The sage also reminds us: “Care is magical: you can feel it in the air when you walk into a caring place.. Everything is caring and cared for: people, furniture, objects, flowers…”
Nader also co-authored Conversations with Ed. Ed Voris is a man who was diagnosed with dementia in Southern California. Nader and Dr. Patrick Fox of UCSF interview Ed about his experiences and share the wisdom he has gained.
Here are some examples:
“Maybe how we should describe elderhood is when we pass beyond the frantic race for life that occurs within the first 50 years.”
“When I received the information from my doctor that I had dementia, I was about as low as a snake’s neck. But then it’s been one generous thing after another.”
“I don’t think it’s misleading to say I’m unquestionably happier and fuller with less.”
One powerful story is that shortly after the diagnosis, Ed drove to his local organization, walked in and explained his diagnosis and that he was looking for support. He was told they couldn’t talk to him unless he came back with a family member. Wow.
I also got to hear a book discussion by Candacy (Can-DAY-see) Taylor, who wrote the book Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress (c.2009 Cornell University Press). A specialist in culture, author and photographer, Taylor waitressed her way through graduate school, so she has lived the life. But for her book, she traveled 26,000 miles around the U.S. and interviewed dozens of career waitresses, all over the age of 50.
The presentation was a combination of slides, audio clips of her interviews, and social commentary. She also brought along Sondra, herself a waitress for 39 years, to share her perspectives. Among Taylor’s discoveries: Career waitresses are extremely happy and love what they do. They are carers and gain great satisfaction in forming sustaining relationships with those who come to the diners. Many go outside their jobs to continue their care for their “customers’, who are in reality their friends. They also make a better living than most people think.
One waitress mentioned that the work ethic seems to be less in the younger people who come to the job, usually for only a short time. “You can always tell how a new waitress will do by watching how they make toast. If they stand there and watch the bread in the toaster, they’re not going to make it.”
Candacy has had some offers for a show based on the book. Hopefully they will recognize her great regard for the wisdom of the more experienced women, and not fill the show with 20-somethings. She is also shopping her audio files with shows like This American Life. Ira Glass, take note!!!
Find out more about Candacy HERE.
I may very well leave my heart in San Francisco. It’s an amazing place! Here’s one last thought from Nader: “By caring for an elder, we also care for that part of ourselves that will grow old.”