Everyone is a former baby with a distinctive birthright

Trusting relationships are the most basic of human needs and the strongest foundation for caring for one another. Despite that belief, it’s easy to get caught up in a one-woman hamster wheel of working, consuming media, and just being busy with the many tasks on my to-do list.

  • I teach our care teams about the power of human connection through eye contact, touch, music, and conversation.
  • I teach them that each person has a unique worth from birth through the end of life, as fully capable human beings.
  • I teach our leaders about the power of creating a culture of caring in a person-centered workplace in their responsibility to care for their care teams and families while becoming well-known to one another.

Yet, I acknowledge that I sometimes take human connection for granted; I forget its value and forget to nurture it.

I was reminded again of the power of human connection this week when I was at Desert Peaks Assisted Living in Las Cruces New Mexico, teaching Adriana, a new Life Enrichment Coordinator about the power of human connection in the  ‘Circle of Friends‘.  As Adrianna began to invite elders who are living with cognitive challenges to our circle on the patio outside in the beautiful New Mexico sunshine, one was falling asleep, another in a grouchy mood, another who didn’t talk much, and a fourth person who was confused, but engaged and eager to connect.

As we sat close to one another in the circle we sang  “You are my sunshine” making direct eye contact with each person, and we saw the energy began to increase.  After singing several rounds of the song we welcomed each person, saying their name as we made eye contact and a handshake. “Good Morning Albert, thank you for coming today.”  Then we began discussing the beautiful day, and some of the elders began to talk.  We talked about family and times spent outside.  I said, “I love New Mexico, it is called the land of….” three of them responded quickly, “Enchantment!”   “Right”, I said, “New Mexico is indeed the land of Enchantment.”

Suzy had her eyes closed but began to smile.  We switched up the energy a bit, as we talked about playing together outside, and played balloon volleyball.  After about three minutes, Suzy’s eyes popped open, and with a big smile on her face, she joined the fun!  As the balloon bounced off some of our heads or went flying into the bushes, we all laughed.  The balloon landed on a sharp thorn and made a loud pop!  We all laughed even harder. One of the care team came outside and asked, “What’s all the laughing about out here?”  We ended the exercise when it was suggested we pop the other balloon, so I put it in the chair and sat on it until it popped!  Another loud round of laughter.

Then we talked about how important family,  friends, and connections are, and everyone except Suzy spoke – but she had the biggest smile!  We closed by saying each person’s name and expressing gratitude for them.  To each person, I said, “Thank you for being a part of our circle today, You made my day!”  Then we held hands and sang ‘Amazing Grace’ together.

It was almost time for lunch, and the care team came out to escort our now very connected group into the dining room.  But, you know what?  They didn’t want to leave. They had experienced a powerful human connection with one another and with us. They felt valued as whole and capable, They felt loved. They felt safe. They contributed with a purpose in making another person’s day better.

We can all begin today to recognize and value the power of human connections.   We can clean up the relationships that matter to us now.  We can have the courage to offer a part of our soul and to seek it in another.  We can do this with our residents, our family members, our co-team members, our bosses, our siblings and our mates and our friends and our colleagues.

We can all do this – even with the disconnection and the discord all around us. We can do this for the soul of the world.


Elizabeth Lesser challenges us to “Say your truth, and seek truth in others“.  She says       “Be like a new kind of first responder… the one to take the first courageous step toward the other.” Elizabeth Lesser starts her talk in the Ted Talk in this post with the lessons she learned from being a midwife. “Everyone in this room is a former baby with a distinctive birthright,” she says, and we are all possessed of a “unique spark.

I invite you to take 15 minutes this weekend to reflect on the relationships in your life.  Authentic, genuinely caring relationships are at the core of everything that matters in the world. What greater gift can we give to another than the gift of ourselves?


 


About the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada.

Empathy – An expression of non-judgemental love

You never really understand another person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it. –Harper Lee

All we need is love ~ especially working in eldercare.  The basic human need for  love and belonging is an imperative to life!

According to the latest neuroscience research, 98% of people (the exceptions include those with psychopathic tendencies) have the ability to empathize wired into their brains – a capacity for stepping into the shoes of others and understanding their feelings and perspectives.

Empathy is a key ingredient of nurturing relationships and can forge loving and safe connections.

Here are some stories of  empathetic communication break-through moments I have observed working with those living with dementia:

Paul is spending the entire morning walking the halls and calling out his wife’s name. “Dolly, Dolly, Dolly!”  A well-meaning care team member says, “Dolly went shopping, she will be back later.”  Paul begins to wail and scream her name, “Dolly, Dolly, Dolly!”   He is looking for her everywhere and is very upset he can’t find her. Another care team member utilizing empathetic communication says, “Tell me about Dolly.  What color are her eyes?  What do you miss most about her?”   After a few minutes, Paul says, “She has been gone a long time, I really miss her hugs.”      

The first well meaning care team member has sympathy for Paul and told atherapeutic lie.  Paul  knows deep inside that Dolly has been gone for 20 years, and he is communicating that he misses her.  He was invited to share and release his deep feelings and heartbreak to  the second care team member who listened with empathy and love.  

Madeline starts pacing at 4:30 every afternoon to go home to her children. “I want to go home! I need to get home to my children!”  A well-meaning care team member  says, “Sit down. Everything’s OK.  Let’s go  have a cookie.” Madeline  gets more and more nervous, agitated, and upset.Another care team member utilizing empathetic communication asks Madeline, “What is the worst thing that will happen if you can’t get home?”  Madeline expresses her vivid memory of having left her children alone. Her fears are expressed to a trusted empathetic listener, and her painful feelings are diminished. 

The first well meaning  care team member has sympathy for Madeline, and she usedre-direction to try to calm Madeline’s fears.   Madeline is reliving a vivid memory of leaving her children alone at home.  She needs to express her fears to an empathetic listener who is willing to enter Madeline’s reality to relieve her fears.

Listening with empathy builds trust, reduces anxiety and restores dignityPainful feelings that are expressed and acknowledged  by an empathetic listener will diminish.

Painful feelings that are ignored or suppressed will gain in strength. The power of empathy to connect and to relieve pain that is pent up inside can bring peace of mind to those living with dementia.  

Empathy is an expression of non-judgemental love and a connection to another human being.  Yes, indeed, love does belong in the workplace! 

If these 8th graders, below, can define and act with empathy, we are all capable of acting with empathy. Listen to the wisdom of these children.

Words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes. –Theodore Dreiser


11062337_10206528118188840_645394201235573404_nAbout the Author: Jean Garboden is the Director of Education and Innovation at Compass Senior Living, located in Eugene Oregon. Jean is an Elder Advocate and Eden Alternative Educator with over 30 years’ experience in not-for-profit and for-profit health care organizations. She is honored to lead the mission and values culture development for Compass Senior Living. Jean lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she enjoys the weather and volunteers with the Nevadans for the Common Good, advocating for caregivers and elders in southern Nevada