Category: Books

Creating Moments of Joy


St. Paul’s Senior Services has a complete range of facilities for seniors from Residential Living (at the Manor) through Assisted Living (at the Villas) to specialized memory care (at the Memory Care Center) and a lot more in between.   My mentor and supervisor for this summer, Fr. Leigh Jacobsen, one of the chaplains at St. Paul’s, recommended a book Creating Moments of Joy by Jolene Brackey as an introduction to working with residents with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  I did not have a chance to read any of it before my first visit to the memory care center.   Pam and I arrived at the center and saw that our names were on the daily activities list as Reflections with Pam and Richard. Taken a little back by this but eager and willing to do whatever was requested of us we asked the staff what was expected of us.  We were told to go into the dining room which also doubles as the activity room and just sit and talk with any of the residents.  So off we went.

All of the residents at the center have some memory issues but there is a wide range of functionality from resident to resident.   With some residents I struggled to find words when the response back was confusion and at times fear.  With other residents I could hold a conversation to some extent.  One resident, Mary (that is not her real name) seemed to be having a good day and was quite coherent and we chatted about her sons and how she was going out to dinner with them the next day.   Then, all of a sudden she looked out of the window and seemed to be focusing on some buildings across the street.   “Do you see my husband over there?” she asked.   “I don’t I’m afraid where is he meant to be?”  I replied having no idea why her husband would be outside waiting for her.   “He should be on the steps over there with his mates, you know he is always trying to organize a game of something, can’t you see him?”   I couldn’t and I suspected that the husband was not real, maybe a memory but not in the present.   I had no idea how to respond.  It was clear that if I told her the truth she would get upset but it felt wrong to lie to her and play along with her fantasy.

When I got home that night I started to read the book that had been recommended and I couldn’t put it down.   The book is split into small sections, each with little suggestions on activities and responses appropriate for interacting with people experiencing loss of memory function.  A central theme of the book is that we must accept when the memory has gone and meet the person where they are.  In that moment and in that location we try to create a moment of joy.   Not for us, but for them.

In the case of Mary, her memory is now somewhere to a point earlier in her life.   Maybe she remembers looking out of the kitchen window and seeing her husband out with his mates on the street at night.   There is no harm in creating a moment of joy back at a time that for the rest of us was long ago but for Mary was now.

The next time I was at the center, Mary was all dressed up and was indeed waiting for her son to take her out.   As I sat with her (she was ready three hours early and had little concept of time) she again asked me about her husband.   “Yes, I think he is over there, I saw him a few minutes ago heading over to Balboa park with a bunch of guys and a football”  Mary’s eyes lit up in a moment of joy.  “Oh good, now I know he won’t get into too much trouble whilst I go for dinner”.

Both Pam and I have become regular visitors with Mary.   I know that she loves to cook pork chops and she promises me that next time I come she will cook them for me.   The knowledge of the happiness of her planning the meal is a delicious moment of joy.

Duck, Death and the Tulip


I am doing one of my field placements at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Rancho Penasquitos.  Today after the service was the monthly Philosophy for Kids & by Kids.  Each month Dr. Maria chooses a story and tells it to the kids (and their parents who always seem to enjoy the story as much as the kids).  After the story Maria leads a discussion with the kids about what the story meant, how its meaning can be applied to their lives etc…  Often a comment from one of the kids triggers many more comments from the parents.

This morning, we read Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch.   There was some concern before the session about how suitable a discussion on death would be for the kids.   As it turned out the kids were fine, but the adults were deep in thought and discussion.

Sometimes we shy away from hard questions and hard subjects and by doing so we do ourselves a major disservice.

When was the last time we talked to our loved ones about death?  what are we afraid off?  where do we stand with God and our thoughts on death?

Sometimes the thoughts of those much younger than us can teach us so much.

A Throne and a Cross


In his book “Four Gospels, One Jesus? A Symbolic Reading” Richard A. Burridge says whilst discussing The Roar of the Lion – Mark’s Jesus :

James and John think the whole point discipleship is to get the best seats in heaven – not realizing that Jesus’ throne is to be a cross (Mk. 10.35-45).

KING Jesus throne w cross


A throne is to be a cross – this can be a discomforting image to some people.

What is more shocking is when we do not manifest our faith to represent a throne as a cross.

Discomforting faith – hopefully found, when we challenge the world that we live in.

Through Thick and Thin

This autobiography is a joy to read, it kept my interest throughout and the last few pages delivered a strong ending.
Kowkhyn Wan, better known as Gok Wan or as Auntie Gok to his TV audience and Bebe to his family is a British TV style and fashion presenter famous for series such as How To Look Good Naked and Gok’s Fashion Fix.  I knew of Gok but actually knew his older brother, Kwok-Lyn, and older sister, Oilen.   We all lived on the same housing estate, Beaumont Leys, in Leicester and all went to the same schools – Barley Croft and Babington Community College.  This of course made it personally a good read as he described his life and school experiences in a place that I know so well.  There is a photo in the book of the family on a playground at the back of the estate.  Recognizing that particular wall of bricks bought back many of my own memories.
The book has so much more to it though for a wider readership.  Gok came from a Chinese/English mixed family, was overweight and gay.  He went on to develop anorexia, a disease that he has, and will continue to battle all of his life.  He is extremely candid about his life challenges.  Examples of this include when he describes the times when he had to give up his life and current education/career in London and return home to Leicester.
At times he glosses over some of his rougher edges, but who can blame him for that?  Despite these omissions what comes across is a guy who has shot into national stardom but never lost his true roots, the importance of family, hard work and helping others.
I’ve always been proud to come from Beaumont Leys, for attending Babington Community College.
And I’m proud of Gok for all that he has achieved.  If I take anything away from the book it is his bravery in allowing, and then writing about, all of his life experiences to shape who he is today.  How many of us would bare all of our dark secrets in public in order to give strength, courage and hope to others?

The Guernsey Literacy and Potato Peel Pie Society

Before I even start – this book was hard to put down from the first page onwards.  By the time that I got to the final fifty pages I knew I could not stop reading until I got to the end.
I have always loved the Channel Island of Guernsey.  I spent many happy Boys’ Brigade camps there growing up and a wonderful summer working in a hotel.  Did I mention the summer romance?  Guernsey was, and possibly still is, my ultimate place to feel safe.  If I ever ran away you would probably find me here.I’ve always been fascinated by how resilient the Channel Islander’s were during the German occupation.  The Guernsey Literacy and Potato Peel Pie Society captures a real sense of being there in the moment in a powerful but gentle way.  Character’s are developed naturally, the story unfolds like a petal on flower opening up as the sun rises and calls to a new day.  I was left longing for a period when thoughts were expressed in letters and we actually communicated our feelings in whole sentences with the benefit of elapsed time between each response.

The society provided a bond that no invading army could break.  A society that looked after each other when the world was dark and bleak.  A society that dared to be different without being different at all.

As Juliet discovered the charms of all that Guernsey had to offer, as she visited places that I had forgotten  that I loved many years ago.  I fell in love again with the people, the places and the peace of the island.

Shaffer and Barrows skillfully show that you don’t need violence or high drama to hold the reader close.  What you do need is relationships and community or in the books case a Literacy and Potato Peel Pie Society.

When You Are Engulfed In Flames

by David Sedaris

I have this habit with books, once I start one I am determined to finish it. A book that takes me two days to read is very good (in my opinion) a book that takes longer……. I started to read David Sedaris’s book about nine months ago.

I appreciate books that are mini essays. I really like books that describe real life and are sharp in their observations, plus if they are witty then all the better. This book has it’s moments, some characters are very well developed, occasionally the last sentence of a chapter reveals a thought or an alternative perspective. For me though, the book lacked direction. All the way up to the last few pages I was hoping for a final twist that would tie everything together, but it never came.

The final chapter did have one gem of a line “If God knows that I don’t believe in him, why would he go out of his way to help me?” – I’ll come back to that one.