I’m admittedly a very here-and-now kind of girl, neither a planner nor nostalgic. There’s something about both the honesty and spontaneity of living in the present that just draws me to it. That and I 1) have an awful memory and 2) was brainwashed by Dr. Yalom as a grad student. When it comes to my loves, however, I’m finding more and more that there is an incredible benefit to reminiscing.
Reminiscence therapy involves recalling personal experiences from one’s past. Its purpose is to improve functioning by decreasing demands on impaired cognitive abilities and capitalizing on those that are preserved. The most prominent memories I have of my early RT days are centered on the question, “Tuo marito era geloso?” Obviously, I had my first taste of reminiscence therapy in Italy.
Often used to help treat depression, RT is particularly beneficial for the elderly for a number of reasons:
- Reminiscing doesn’t demand some new or complicated skill. It doesn’t put you on the spot or require you to think on your feet. Because of this, it’s suitable for those experiencing some sort of cognitive decline or deficiency.
- Those participating in RT are the main actors in their stories. They’re able to feel comfortable, involved, and in control.
- Even when confined to one’s own mind, nostalgia is social in nature. It stimulates feelings of connectedness to others; sharing stories cultivates a sense of universality or togetherness. It helps people let their guard down and become better acquainted with one another.
- Reminiscing about the past can foster a great deal of satisfaction and understanding. For my loves, it’s a means of affirming who they are and what they’ve accomplished, as well as a chance to relive happier times. Despite their cognitive state, it’s a way to talk easily about the things they do remember.
So, where does the jealous husband fit into all of this?! & how do I implement RT on a daily basis here negli Stati Uniti? In Italy, I didn’t know my nonnas’ backgrounds. For the most part, I hadn’t met their families and I had no idea how they grew up. What I quickly learned I could assume, however, was that their nonno counterparts were extremely (and stereotypically!) jealous. Asking a question as simple as, “Was your husband jealous?” was enough to spark responses filled not just with detail, but with life. It triggered shared laughs and parallel memories. It got my loves talking, smiling, and feeling close to one another.
It’s one thing to stir up recollections, but another to remember them:
“As a result of feeling shaken up and beaten down, a resident experiences low self-esteem. Part of the rebuilding of a resident’s sense of personal worth comes from my spending time with her, giving her attention, listening to her, and making the effort to help her. Making regular visits to a resident, remembering the content of previous conversations, and offering assistance are generally experienced as caring concern and can help to restore her sense of worth.
The primary factor that promotes loving care in [assisted living] is that the caretaker must get to know the resident personally. … Personal knowledge is likely to engender empathy and connection.”
– Simple Lessons for a Better Life
I always want to know the whole scoop. When I meet potential residents and their family members, I ask a thousand questions; I want to know how they met their spouse, what they did for a living, what they loved to do most, etc. This information may seem trivial or unnecessary being that they’re looking for a solution to a problem that is very much in the here-and-now, not related to their past, but this is the most important part of our conversation. It is their story that’s essential, not their diagnoses, med list, or cognitive state. That’s all valuable, but it is no doubt secondary to who they are as an individual and how they came to be.
If I see a nonno crying in his bedroom, I want to know it’s because this would have been his anniversary, not to assume he’s sundowning. I want to hold his hand as we talk about his wife and reflect on the winters they spent in Boca. I want to make each nonna feel heard.. to show her that she’s loved and listened to, her stories appreciated. And when she could use a laugh, I want to bust her about her feisty husband, swearing I don’t envy her yet fawning over his timeless, passionate, inspiring (albeit fiery) love for her.