“It is story that saves us. –
Sandra Benitez in A Place Where the Sea Remembers
The older I get, the more I wonder about my life legacy and the values I will leave behind one day. In recent months, when I am with older people, especially my old friends at the lodge, I am aware of time passing, how hours and days disappear. I notice the weeks and years flying by, and I feel my mortality.
I visit the Lodge once a month as a volunteer. In my Koffee with Kathie Reminiscence Group, the elderly residents bring me face-to-face with the fragility of life. I am privy to the joys and difficulties of growing old. Brain function diminishes, eyesight dims, thoughts lose clarity; bodies fail; friends die. Some of them are complainers who are dissatisfied with the food, the company at dinner, or simply with the weather. And then there are those who appreciate bread pudding with whipped cream for dessert, apartments with walk in tubs and housekeeping staff who make their beds each day. This group laughs and their eyes crinkle and their smiles reveal gaps where teeth should be. Moments of delight at the small things makes it all bearable. The twinkle in their eyes brings me happiness.
I’m convinced delight is the precursor to a long life. At my sessions, whether they are telling stories about women’s work like sewing or cooking, clothing fashions in 1935, gardening on the farm or favourite Christmas traditions, the conversation turns to childlike pleasure at memories from long ago.
I’m beginning to do this myself when I recollect events from my own past.
In a speech for my local Toastmasters group, I re-enacted an event from my life when I was a naive 12-year-old enamoured of a biology lesson on reproduction in fish! When I spoke about my coming of age, I could appreciate a childlike innocence so unlike the worldly view of life children now.
When I am with elderly people who are bitter and resentful, I wonder if it is because all their lives they have felt invisible and unheard. There are those who, at this late stage in life, still harbour ill feelings for their mothers or grieve brothers killed in World War II. How sad they are unable to savour the pleasure of bright flowers that decorate the tables, the dance music on Friday afternoons, and the entertainment the recreation staff bring them every day.
I believe we all desire a life in which we feel loved and at peace. If there a gift in memory loss, perhaps it is living in a facility where other residents become like family. Perhaps, it is the gift of story told in the moment that creates healing. Perhaps it really is story that saves us.