Tag Archive | Jolene Brackey

Dementia, Music, and Talking with God

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Last Thursday Mim and I took a day-trip to Lake Geneva for Rainbow Hospice Care’s 14th annual “End-of Life Conference.” The theme this year was “A Focus on Dementia.” The whole conference was excellent! This is what continuing education is like for people in our business – assisted living.

The morning keynote speaker was Teepa Snow who helped us understand the functional limitations of individuals in each of the seven stages of dementia. She taught us how we can be most helpful when we try to provide care for residents in these stages, as well as how to care for their family members. As Teepa’s speaking and actions evolved into the typical behavior of a person in each stage of dementia, a lightbulb went on in our minds. So that’s why… Now I understand… Behaviors of many past residents came to mind.

The closing keynote speaker was Jolene Brackey, the author of Creating Moments of Joy. Throughout the past 15 years that Mim and I have been doing assisted living in our home, we have given away many copies of her book. The majority of people we have cared for have had some degree of dementia, and this book provides practical examples of how to provide “moments of joy” for these individuals. We’ve made the book required reading for anyone who works with us, and we routinely give the book to the families of our residents with dementia.

fullsizeoutput_22a6Jolene Brackey didn’t disappoint us as a speaker. At the end of a long day of learning for all of us at the conference, she provided us moments of joy as she told us stories and gave us practical examples for sharing joy freely with our residents.

One of the afternoon Breakout Sessions that I found particularly interesting was “Music and Memory.” From my own experience, I’ve known that music still communicates with many people who have very advanced dementia. I used to play the piano monthly for a senior respite organization in a nearby town. One of their clients was a man in his 50s who had early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. He would sit in the group all day long without saying a word. But when it came time for the sing-along, he would join in and sing enthusiastically, remembering all the words of the golden oldies and hymns I played for them.

fullsizeoutput_22a8The “Music and Memory” Breakout Session was an update on the progress of a non-profit organization called “Music & Memory.” The vision of “Music & Memory” is to provide the means for caregiving organizations to give an iPod with a personalized playlist for each person in their care. The playlist includes the favorite songs of each individual, often the popular hits of their high school years. Research has shown that people, even in the advanced stages of dementia, exhibit signs of happiness when they are listening to their favorite music.

In this session, we were asked to pair up with another session participant to learn about their favorite music – something we would need to do with a resident or their family if we were to try to create a personalized playlist. My partner was a college student, whose favorite music type is heavy metal, and whose favorite band is Metallica. In contrast, I’m nearly 70 and my favorite music type is sacred piano, and one of my favorite performers is Steve Hall. Our music vocabularies had almost no overlap. If I had to prepare a playlist of her favorites, I would really struggle. But I enjoyed talking with her and learning a little about heavy metal music. I now have a little better understanding of the incredible breadth of music that can speak to our souls.

Thinking about the power of music is something I’ve been doing for several months. As you may know from previous blog posts, I’m writing a book with the current working title of Talking with God through Music. I’ve actually been working on this book for over a year. Originally I intended it to be a daily devotional with personal reflections on 365 of my favorite hymns. I started writing the book in late 2016, and I started the project by writing reflections on hymns of thanksgiving. Then I worked on Christmas Carols. The more I wrote, and the more I organized my favorite hymns into different categories to figure out where in the year they should be placed in the book, I decided it made sense to start the book with a month’s worth of hymns based on Psalms – the hymn book of the Bible. I finished writing the Psalm section of my book the last time I was at our Christmas Mountain timeshare, a few weeks ago.

Now that I’ve written 31 reflections on Psalm-based hymns, I’ve decided to publish this collection of hymns and reflections as a separate book, Talking with God through Music: Reflections on My Favorite Psalm-Based Hymns. My plan is to use this 68-page book as a prototype for the larger book. I experimented with a lot of new things in writing this book, and I want to find out if all my extra homework is worth the effort. I did quite a bit of research into each hymn to be able to provide information about the author, the composer, and the historical context, along with my personal reasons for choosing the hymn as one of my favorites. I also learned to use music-writing software to create a melody line for each hymn so that readers can actually see the music and lyrics next to my paragraphs to help them remember what the hymn sounds like – to be able to sing it in their mind or even out loud.

I hope that readers will give me feedback on the prototype that will help me tweak the style and format for the larger book. My goal for the final book is to help readers discover how music, hymns in particular, can enrich their ability to talk with God. Music is the language of the soul. As St. Augustine said more than 1500 years ago, “Whoever sings prays twice.” And, as we were reminded last Thursday, music is an amazing means of communication for everyone, regardless of their cognitive state.

fullsizeoutput_22a7If you would like a copy of Talking with God through Music: Reflections on My Favorite Psalm-Based Hymns, let me know. I’ll be happy to send you one. I’d really appreciate your feedback on the concept and structure of the book before I put together my next book. My goal is to submit the text of the prototype to the publisher this week, and to receive the printed copies within a week or two. I’ll write another blog post when I have the books in hand.

 

Stories and Feathers

IIMG_0777 was sitting at my desk thinking about what to write about for my next blog post, and my dog Floey trotted up to me and sat down. “Hey, Mom, can I talk with you about something that’s been on my mind a lot lately – ever since my last grooming?”

“Sure, Floey. What’s on your mind?” I looked at her and smiled. “You really are a pretty dog, Floey. Even though you’re mostly white, you somehow manage to stay clean, despite the snow and slush all around. Even your new turquoise neck scarf from the groomer still looks clean. And the beautiful pink and turquoise feathers the groomer put behind your ear are still in place.”

Floey grinned at me and looked right in my eyes. “Actually, that’s partly what I want to talk with you about, Mom – the feathers. Remember, when you adopted me you learned that I was born on an Indian reservation in northern Minnesota.”

“That’s right, Floey. I remember. Animal Rescue and Veterinary Support Services (ARVSS) rescued you and all your brothers and sisters when you were six months old and brought all of you down to southern Wisconsin to find new homes.”

Dakota-Sioux-American-Indian-Pictures3“Yup. I’m really thankful that ARVSS rescued us and that you and Mim adopted me. I know that I’ve become part of just the right family, the one the Great Spirit had in mind for me when I was born. But back to my story… Two weeks ago, when Denise, the groomer at Bark of the Town, put these two feathers behind my ear, I started thinking about my Indian heritage. You know, Mom, getting my first two feathers is a really big deal.”

“Wow, I didn’t know that, Floey.”

“I know you didn’t. You said the feathers looked cute on me, so I know you like them, but I also know you don’t know the significance of them. You don’t know the Indian stories behind getting feathers, and that’s what I want to talk to you about.”

“That’s wonderful, Floey. I’d love to hear your stories.”

“The most important thing to know is that a feather is a symbol of bravery and courage. A young Indian is given their first feather when they have done some courageous act that qualifies them to be considered an adult. They get another feather each time they do something outstanding. I guess I earned my first feather for being brave around the hair dryer, and my second feather for keeping up my courage and good nature while my nails were trimmed. I was so proud when I walked out of the groomers wearing these two feathers. I feel like my bravery was recognized and I’ve been honored appropriately. I feel proud, and good about myself. I feel like I’m proudly wearing my first symbols of adulthood.”

IMG_0774“I’m glad you told me all about this, Floey. I never would have guessed the significance of these beautiful feathers that you are wearing so proudly. I was actually a little surprised that you hadn’t rubbed them off over the last couple weeks.”

“Oh, I’d never do that, Mom. I’m so happy to wear these feathers, and to think about the stories of my heritage. It’s important for me to tell you these stories so that we all understand each other better and so that our stories will never be forgotten.”

“Oh, I agree with you, Floey. Being a storyteller is one of the most important things we can be. One day last week I ran into a friend of mine who was having a bad day. She was discouraged in her job of caring for someone with Alzheimers disease. She felt emotionally exhausted and totally unappreciated for her efforts in trying to care for this woman. You know what brightened her mood and lightened her day?”

51eT93GoU3L._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_“What, Mom?”

“I was able to tell her about a book that was written by a storyteller who knows all about caring for people with Alzheimers. The book is Creating Moments of Joy by Jolene Brackey. The stories in this book are sure to give my friend greater understanding of the disease and new ideas to help her care for her client.”

“That’s great, Mom. I think you might deserve a feather for helping your friend by telling her about this book of stories. You weren’t exactly demonstrating bravery – kindness, maybe – and I think that counts for earning feathers, too.”

“Thanks, Floey. I guess one of the most important things you and I are teaching each other is the value of sharing our stories. Let’s make a pact – we’ll always tell our own stories and listen to each other’s stories.”

“Good idea, Mom. I’m sure that’s what the Great Spirit has in mind for us.”

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