Un’amore Così Grande

couplesSome favorite couples at il Rifugio ❤

Last week, I was able to play my favorite reminiscence grab bag game again. I offered a workshop on “Keeping Your Mind Strong” to some loves at an assisted living facility and we had an awesome time. Though I didn’t necessarily hear any super-insightful responses like I’ve written about before, there was one nonna who really got me thinking. One of the prompts is “greatest role model.” When reading it aloud, I offered examples: a parent, a mentor, a former teacher. The nonna who’d picked this one, however, specified that her greatest role model had been her husband. Davvero?!

Amongst the countless things we learn from elders, it’s been my experience that love is of the most profound. To be clear: unless I’m crazy about you, I am not a lovey-dovey person. The word “relationship” gives me anxiety. I am the epitome of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca when he replies “I never make plans that far ahead” to Madeline LeBeau’s “Will I see you tonight?” I can tell you with confidence that I am not writing this post as a sappy 20-something girl whose five-year plan is to find a husband and start a family.

That being said, the love these nonnos and nonnas have shown me blows my cynicism to pieces. It floors me. I, like everyone else, have a general idea of what I want and what I look for in a partner; I’ve got the standard mental checklist that I refer to and that changes as I grow. While some criteria remain, I’ve tweaked or eliminated others. Does he need to let Max sleep in bed with us? Yes. Will he have to be as obsessed with traveling? No. One condition that persists: he has to be there. Like, really be there. Not in the sense that he’s breathing down my neck; I mean I have to know that this guy would stand by my side through thick and thin, and that I would proudly, without hesitation do the same for him.

I’m cynical, but now I’m spoiled. I’ve seen a love that withstands both physical and intellectual decay – the kind of crumbling that leads to pureed meals & empty stares, to alarming confusion & hurtful claims, and to incontinence & immobility. It’s this love that plows through hurdles and persists. The man who’d talk to me despite my silence, who’d care for me without applause, who’d lie beside me on my bathroom floor to ease my painhe would be my role model, and me [hopefully] his.

Greatest Accomplishment

As part of my job description, I’m given the opportunity to present in front of local seniors, other professionals, at hospitals, in nursing or assisted living facilities, etc. The topics vary and include things like Keeping Your Mind Strong and Normal Aging vs. Dementia. As if I hadn’t loved grad school enough, I am even more grateful for it now; those PowerPoints and mock group sessions have prepared me beyond measure. My first presentation was last week and I was in my glory.

The Memory Loss workshop was sponsored by Newark Beth Israel and held at the South Ward Senior Citizen Center in Newark. My boss and I anticipated about 10 people showing up, assuming it would be an easy practice run for me with little room for error. I in turn showed up alone and, to my surprise, was greeted by 40 nonnos and nonnas. I was ecstatic. We spent over an hour discussing memory loss prevention, reminiscing together, and learning from each other.

I want to keep my presentations interactive, so I had us play a reminiscence grab bag game toward the end. The way it works is that everyone picks a tiny piece of paper from a hat, not revealing their “memory” until all have finished and we go around the room. Memories include cues like “first kiss,” “worst job I’ve ever had,” “most embarrassing moment,” etc. I’ve used it in grad school internships and it’s always proven to be a fun, playful way to rummage through the past, to get to know each other better, and to create a sense of universality.

When asked to share her greatest accomplishment with the group, a SWSCC member said, “I learned to stop worrying so much about everything and just focus on the positive.” Ummm cosa?! As a naïve twenty-something, I naturally expected one’s response to be something like “landing my dream job” or “giving birth.” I applauded her for her achievement and expressed that this takes time, noting that, at 27, I’m still working on it. Her response (which she whispered into my ear): “Let me tell you a secret that will help speed things up: be thankful. Really appreciate life and all of your blessings. Be grateful, and you’ll no longer be worried about worrying.”

What a powerful and admirable achievement. Renowned psychologist Erik Erikson explained that we spend a big portion of our adult lives frantically searching for creative, meaningful work, dreading the idea of being “stuck.” (<- e` vero) We immerse ourselves in our responsibilities, striving to attain what’s unattainable and fill the void that is its absence. Little do we realize, though, that by focusing on what we’ve yet to acquire, we lose sight of how fortunate and capable we already are.

My insightful audience member’s wisdom can be applied in any situation and at any point in one’s life; whether an adult still striving or a senior reflecting back, it is essential that we realize and take pride in our accomplishments. When working with our nonnos and nonnas, we need to focus on what is precious and unique about them, celebrating what they can still do as opposed to what they cannot. We must nurture a positive, purposeful life. Most importantly, we are to lift spirits and applaud strengths.

My next workshop is on February 4th in Summit. To say I’m excited to hear more grab bag responses is an f’ing understatement.