Want to lift your spirits? Learn from the pros…

Photo includes Bridges by Epoch community members (left to right) Helen, Angie, Roger, and Anne, Bridges by Epoch Life Enrichment Director (kneeling) Abbie, (standing) Bridges by Epoch Community Relations Director Sarah, Mitsy Kit CEO Tammy Roussell, and Bridges by Epoch intern Mykala, at Windrush Farm in North Andover, MA.


Look at these smiles!  What makes these folks so happy?  Based on my experience working with folks in our Mitsy Kit groups over the past three years, it is pretty clear.  These folks understand what most of us forget on a daily basis.  Happiness is a gift, most often received when you are giving it away to others.

What is most ironic is that the folks I work with should have the most right to complain.  Yet, most of the time, they do not.  You see, I work with the elderly, blind, memory impaired, stroke impaired, and others with physical and cognitive challenges.  Some live in residential communities, some live with family, and some live independently and seek social engagement through day programs or community centers.

The folks pictured above, who are part of the Bridges by Epoch residential community for the memory impaired in Westford Massachusetts, are glowing with joy after giving away horse themed fleece pillows they personally handmade, to Windrush Farm equestrian therapeutic program participants.  If you were there, you could not help be emotionally touched as they handed out their pillows to the riders coming out of the stables after the therapeutic program concluded.  One Bridges by Epoch resident, Roger, said “Oh my God, so wonderful” about the experience, with a glimmer of tears in his eyes as he hugged the recipient of his pillow.

This is just one of the many humbling experiences I am blessed to witness.  The folks I get to work with, by most people’s standards, have little to give, yet strive to find every opportunity to do so.  Just yesterday, working with a blind and visually impaired group in New Hampshire, I was struck by the generosity and compassion of those who were legally blind them selves stepping up to help others in the group learn how to sew by touch, forgoing the activity for themselves.  This generosity is a theme that continues to play over and over again as the folks I work with unselfishly seek opportunities to serve others, with joyful anticipation.

So what did I learn from the elderly, frail, and those challenged with disabilities?  The key to happiness!  If I am ever down, I go to work with my dear friends who know the true meaning of happiness is to give it away.  I would highly recommend it!

Blindness and dementia – making peace with our new normal

My mom is 92, cute as a button, healthy by most standards, but quality of life impaired due to blindness and dementia.
Imagine, you are diagnosed with blindness, and after coming to terms, to the best you can, using a cane to navigate a familiar place without your eyesight, you realize that your memory is failing you and you suddenly do not know the sequence of steps it takes to get to the bathroom. Horrifying right?
This is what my mom experiences every day now, and what I need to remind myself of, in order to be at peace with our new normal.
Mom lives with us in our home and I am her primary caretaker. I have witnessed many changes as my mom’s blindness progressed, which is now to the point where she cannot distinguish whether a light is on or not in a room. Now, coupled with dementia, mom struggles to maintain a sense of dignity while giving up her independence more and more each day. She, understandably, will get angry and defensive, wanting to blame something or someone else for making her feel so inadequate.
As my mom’s primary caretaker, I sometimes do better dealing with this than others. It can be both heartbreaking and exhausting. Although intellectually I know not to take any of my mom’s defensiveness personally, emotionally it can be challenging.
Working with the elderly, blind and memory impaired has helped me to keep a healthier perspective than I believe I would otherwise. I often see people in wonderful residential programs who are also struggling for their independence and identity. It is a struggle between accommodating freedoms with safety. I see it when people want to be able to go out for a walk by themselves, or drive “their car” to the store, and are beautifully redirected so that they are not reminded of what they cannot do – and guided to what they can.
Recently, I was faced with potentially removing another freedom from my mom for her own safety. I was contemplating having to put locks on her door so she could not go outside by herself. My peace was destroyed with these thoughts, until I realized that I could put a chime on her door in place of a lock. This allowed me to help maintain her dignity, as I blamed local break ins for the need to install the door chime. It was the perfect answer, another step to finding peace in our new normal.
My mom and I have not always had the best of relationships. Ironically, blindness and dementia have helped bring us closer together. It is as if the pain of current wounds supersedes the pain of past wounds. Not that I would wish this on anyone, but if it becomes your reality, it is helpful to realize that there can be a silver lining. In our case, there have been many. I would even call them gold linings, as we have experienced healing of our own past hurts and even found ways to help others who are experiencing similar challenges.
So, finding peace in this new normal life of care taking, for me comes down to finding ways to make a difference for my mom, others like her, and other adult children like me. With this in mind, I am going to start writing about our experiences in hopes it can bring some hope and ideas for others who are experiencing similar challenges. I also will write about my experiences and ideas gleaned through my work, as it is key to how I discovered our gold linings. I started a business called Mitsy Kit, after my mom Mitsy. It was born from my discovery that I could help my mom to relearn sewing by touch after she lost her eyesight, and continues to evolve to help people with both physical and cognitive impairments reignite creativity and purpose.
I welcome others comments and insights that can be helpful toward this goal of achieving peace with our new normal. All communities are stronger together. #AdultChildrenStrong #CaretakersStrong