Tuesday, March 29, 2011


We watched a National Geographic production of reptiles in the world. Of the 8,240 different species they focused on the largest: saltwater crocodiles and the Komodo dragon. Working with Dementia and church people I think they can sometimes add human beings to the list.

Dr. Peter Steinke explains in his books why and what happens when our thinking and behavior move from the cerebral cortex to the brain stem. I do not like the name Reptilian brain, but when I see reptilian behavior I understand the source.

This morning I was assisting Grace on the toilet and she brought both hands, open palm, full force over my cheeks and ears. She did not want her soiled pants changed. Wham!

Most people do not like major change when they first see it coming. You might think that church people would handle change differently than Grace, but we don’t and that’s why we need church.

Aside: if you are avoiding God and a group of church people because you think you aren’t good enough, you need not be concerned. Thank you for being patient with us.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Guest Writer, Dianna Brumfield

Touch is a sensation that is often neglected for the aged. Sometimes older folks lack physical contact because others fear to harm their fragile bodies. Sometimes, regretfully, many younger people have never been around the elderly, so fear the unknown. Whatever the reason, many times seniors find themselves alone, feeling unloved, and untouched.

Since coming to live with us, I’ve noticed that my octegenarian mother has a definite need for touch. Not being a touchy-feely person, I have to admit my contribution to her unmet need. Because she lives with us now and has left many of her friends in another state, Mom does not have the opportunity to meet with her peers frequently.

That is why I’ve noticed her attempts to receive hugs from her three year-old great grandson whom we frequently babysit. Unfortunately at his independent stage, Gavin is not interested in hugs. He would much rather watch “Dora the Explorer” or follow my husband around outside.

But, Mom persists in asking him for hugs, and he, just as persistently refuses.  He’ll say, “I’m all out of hugs, Grammie.” Usually, he’ll eventually give her one, when he’s feeling generous.

The other day, I thought of a solution to this dilemma. When he was all out of hugs, I surprised him by squeezing him tight. “There,” I exclaimed. “Now you have a hug; I just gave you one. Now you can give one to Grammie.” Gavin thought it over, developed a crooked little grin on his face, and then ran to give Grammie a hug. We all got in on the act and felt better about each other. Touching can be contagious.

A gentle hug for older folks makes them feel like the treasures they are. Sometimes we inadvertently make them feel unneeded or wanted by not taking a few minutes to ask about their day, discuss their favorite quiz show, or  comment on their glistening white hair. The elderly can so easily fade into the background when they’re not involved in current activities, or have trouble with sight or hearing.

Taking time to be kind to an elder will someday make more sense when we find ourselves on the other side of the rocking chair. So, find a senior today who needs a hug and gently squeeze them.
Dianna Brumfield lives in Spokane, Washington with her husband. Her eighty-seven year-old mother also lived with them until her recent passing. Dianna works for a women’s recovery home and enjoys gardening and spending time with her grandchildren.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Adagio has been working the last couple months to stay balanced. An important and much loved member made the final transition early this morning. Hospice care was constant and their loving expertise appreciated. Our nurse is a gem.

Yesterday a new family member joined us. We begin again juggling likes, dislikes and needs.

When an element is added to or removed from a mobile, every element is effected as the balance changes. Irene has been bobbing for a week but today she hangs quietly, eyes askew. For an inanimate, glass mobile she is wise.

Robert Frost wrote:

      The rain to the wind said,
      “You push and I’ll pelt.”
      They so smote the garden bed
      That the flowers actually knelt,
      And lay lodged—though
            not dead.
      I know how the flowers felt.

Monday, March 21, 2011


A friend teaches at a private school. They are preparing to move into a new campus this summer. The powers-that-be decided the physical change could be impetus for evaluation of their program. Each department has been meeting to evaluate their curriculum and teaching methods. Parents and staff have been meeting to evaluate school policies on dress, discipline, everything social.  Sports, music, theater programs are being studied and rated in importance and allotted funding. It has been intensive work, but they have a vision.

Years ago I heard of one church that accepted a similar challenge. They cancelled all activities and meetings for six months. They had earlier hammered out a vision statement, a vision that unified and propelled them to spiritual growth. Then they gathered in groups and discussed what they missed and didn’t miss.

Other congregations have been challenged to cancel worship as they know it and gather in small groups for prayer and Bible reading. Then they would be prepared to study historical and contemporary worship and intentionally plan their community worship services anew.

Few group entities have the incentive and energy to review their situation. It is scary to examine any system and identify the elements that work and re-design those that don’t. Such a process highlights turf wars (I like...) and, inevitably, shrinkage of membership happens.

For a family or an organization or a business to reform its system, each individual would need to willingly be reformed. To risk emptying all the baggage.


Monday, March 14, 2011


Family dynamics are interesting.

For the first time in three years we will have an opening at Adagio. We are interviewing prospective residents and their families. We learned the hard way that families spin the best picture of their vulnerable senior. Families do not tell you the difficulties until you agree to an assessment. Three months down the road you hear about syncope, the difficult daughter who fortunately rarely visits, the deceased husband’s gambling addiction, etc.

Every family and each organization has secrets. Secrets are stories describing stormy family dynamics crashing and foaming onto the shore. The flotsam left after calm returns may be cleaned up, but it still litters the family’s memories.

A church congregation rakes over the reasons the last two pastors were let go. But there are hurt witnesses who recognize the raw scraping in the sand, and the behavior pattern that led to the unpleasantness remains unexamined. It is a secret.

Attaching wheels to our baggage allows us false security that the secret will stay packed out of sight.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


My sister gave respite care to our 95-year old mother over the New Year's holidays. I emailed her a poem written by Anne Porter and published in Living Things by Zoland Books. Amazon. This is a book worth buying even if you don’t care for poetry.

 A Short Testament

Whatever harm I may have done
In all my life in all your wide creation
If I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,

And then there are all the wounded
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed
As if I were not one of them.
Where I have wronged them by it
And cannot make amends
I ask you
To comfort them to overflowing…

She responded:

“Spending this time with Mom, I am in awe of what you do daily and as your vocation.  It's good to be with her, but it takes lots of patience.  People say sometimes that it takes patience working with children, but that's not really true.  It takes energy mainly, because they are constantly moving and constantly changing, quick, sure-footed, willing.  Old age is very different, slow and repetitious, confused, but liking everything to be exactly right, and exactly the same.  It's good for my character, being a caretaker for awhile.

“At the same time, I am also aware of the tremendous loss of control that Mom has experienced.  The first day I was here, she tested me a bit, made lots of demands, and asked me to satisfy many whims.  She then complained about my performance!  Finally I said to her, "It must be hard not to be able to just get what it is you want!"  Which was the moment that I realized how impossibly hard it would be for me not to just be able to get up and get whatever I wanted!"

Friday, March 4, 2011


The population in Adagio, our Adult Family Home is actively in transition. One is moving out to live with her ailing husband in a home closer to their DPOA. She is a very bright woman with only occasional outbreaks of dementia clouding her abilities. The others are incautiously stepping out onto the slippery slope of decline. Fortunately for us they take turns.

Each person exhibits unique symptoms and behaviors. Unlike luggage, there is no such thing as one size fits all. Food changes. Jello camouflaged by whipped cream replaces the rejected fluids. Bowls replace plates. Single menu items replace meat, vegetables and mashed yams or potatoes. Only desserts are consistently popular. Our previous meal times merge on a white board chart that reminds us who ate or drank what when.

Walking is replaced by shuffling behind a walker. Mornings begin in a wheel chair, and some evenings the wheel chair again offers safety to shaky legs. 

None of these changes erase the lifetime of contributions these dear ones have given to us. They were the workers for 70 plus years, the church and community volunteers. They supported our country through several wars. They became parents and then caring children to their own aging parents.

Now in their mind they still have work to do. Habits of a lifetime. People are depending on them and they need to get going. If they could only remember where they left their car.

As their failing abilities jettison the contents of their luggage, we stand by holding their memories. As they travel closer to their final destination, we pull the luggage. We remember.