Strength and humor

[The current posts are written by students in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts.  Partnering with U-M Geriatric Centers, Mild Memory Loss, Silver Club Programs, students have been paired with community members to create together.]

What struck me most about my community member from day one was her strength. Her poised, confident and humorous manner is something I strive for everyday, yet she does it with ease. Every time we met I would learn a little bit more about her adventurous life and was amazed by her strong independence, particularly since she grew up in a time when female independence was much less common.  She is clearly proud of her life but it is a calm, complacent pride- happiness. During most of the visits, we just ended up chatting the entire time, discussing life, politics and travel. I felt guilty that we were not painting or collaging like other pairs but I felt like by sharing stories and realizing the similarities of experiences, we were creating something special all our own.

The most memorable of stories was when we were discussing my community member’s trip through Europe. While in Germany she visited a former concentration camp. I had studied abroad last year and also visited a concentration camp. Retelling both our experiences of walking through the camps was chilling and depressing but also incredible because they were so similar. We both described the weight we felt looming over us as we walked through and just the unshakable feeling of death. Despite our many differences, it was a shared understanding and experience that brought us closer.

One personal struggle that I find, as a woman today is the ability to express strength and confidence while maintaining a sense of emotional presence. It is easy to get caught up in the female dichotomy of the strong heartless or the weak emotional woman. In my community member I pleasantly found that she had hit the sweet spot, confidence and strength appeared natural to her but did not close her off to emotion. She seemed to welcome emotions yet handle them with poise. It’s an attribute that I admire immensely and I hope to one day emulate.

~Emily, Art & Design Student 

A Sense of Community through Drumming

[The current posts are written by students in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts.  Partnering with U-M Geriatric Centers, Mild Memory Loss, Silver Club Programs, students have been paired with community members to create together.]

After taking Retaining Identity last year, I knew immediately that I wanted to repeat the experience while working with the Wisdom Keepers. I came into class with a general sense of how to work with older adults with memory loss, but I can’t even begin to expand upon how many different ways of working with this population I learned this semester.

As a shy and awkward person, I expected the interactions with the members and the students, particularly my own interaction, to be very hesitant and wary. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised with the strength through which all the members and students responded to one another especially in our first group drumming activity. Four of us were randomly called upon to sit in the center and somehow create a rhythm together.

And create we did.

It astounded me how much the members and students responded to each other when creating such beats. Even those who weren’t drumming in the center were extremely enraptured by the beat filling the room. Some were even clapping along with the beat. Never before had I felt such an exhilaration and sense of community by watching people drum together. It is almost as if the music was speaking to all of us, encouraging us to work together in the present and in the future.

After working with the community members for another semester, I feel the introduction of activities that are not just focused on the fine arts really helped the members and students connect. I for one will never underestimate the power of music again. Whether it be through drumming, painting, singing, or dancing, I hope to continue these interactions with the members as working with them has been an extremely fulfilling experience.

~ Aditi Gang, Junior, Art & Design and Psychology student

Sharing knowledge

A couple weeks ago, a family friend asked me for advice about someone who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease knowing that I work in a retirement home. I was really excited to tell her about Memory, Aging, and Expressive Arts and what I learned from the course. It felt great to help someone gain a better understanding of the disease and relieve some of her worries just by sharing some of the knowledge I have gained from the class. I recommended her to look into programs like the Silver Club.

My time working with the Wisdom Keepers was different from what I was expecting. There is not a dramatic change in the disease and sometimes you can’t help but wonder if you are helping at all. I learned to pay attention to the subtle details to see the effect. By noticing little improvements, I saw so many wonderful things happen during my short time with the Wisdom Keepers.

My first time meeting the Wisdom Keeper member I was going to work with, I got the impression that she was a little quiet, and maybe even sad. Our day pretty much started the same each week. We would have the same conversation and when the artwork began, my member always reminded me that she was no good but she will try. Once she started painting or collaging, she became very focused and determined to get her work just right. The final product always turned out beautiful and it was exciting to see how happy that made her. She was all smiles as she showed her work to the other members and her daughter. She could not wait to bring the work home and hang it up.

The change from our first meeting to the last was incredible. Her memory was not great, she repeated the same sentences often, forgetting that she told me the same thing just ten minutes before. On our last afternoon together, she brought up the art exhibition that we talked about the previous week and said how excited she was for it. This moment will stick with me for a long time.

Making someone happy is one of the best feelings and I am so proud that I could see the positive impact our work was having on the members. The members were not the only ones gaining from weekly meet ups. I have grown as a person and have a better perspective on aging, happiness, and life in general. I feel so privileged to have had this experience.

~ Kristine, UM Art & Design Student 

What do you think about old people?

“What do you think about old people?” This was a question that my community partner asked during one of our Wisdom Keeper art sessions. I answered her, “They are like a storybook because I love to hear their stories, and I actually have learned life lessons from their stories.”

To me, listening to their stories are the most memorable part of each session.  Among many interesting stories that I’ve heard, my favorite one was a lesson from my community partner. She said, “Life is tough and busy, yet there are so many small things that you can enjoy. So, you don’t have to rush to do something. Look around and enjoy those small things, like a cup of tea or a glass of wine.” Maybe it’s because my recent days have been rough, maybe it’s because of her stories that she told me before she told me this or maybe both, this truly touched my heart. When I heard it, I felt relieved and comforted. After that day, I saw myself as a person who values and appreciates what is around me much more.

Before I started this class, I thought that this class would be an opportunity that I could help other people with my ability. However, during and after each session, I realized that I was the one who was learning from the community members. What I learned and gained from the Wisdom Keeper members is bigger than what I gave them. Overall I thought my experience at Wisdom Keepers was a great opportunity that helped me to relax from daily busy life and to find the meaning of true happiness in my life.  

~Ji-woo, Senior, Art & Design Student