The highest tribute to the dead is not grief, but gratitude ~ Thornton Wilder
As I sit with my friend Lilah, weeks after her stroke, she indicates that her heart is telling her it’s time to move on. It’s easy to feel gratitude for my beautiful elder friend, yet waves of grief are present as well.
Saying good-bye to friends is just part of the package of befriending elders. The honor of being in the presence of people who have embraced this leg of their journey is a gift I receive over and over and only hope I can adequately pay forward!
In addition to offering tribute to our loved ones when they pass, why not make appreciation a habit now? All too often, our habits have us noticing what needs improvement in our relationships rather than finding the perfection of what is. Looking for what’s right in the relationship is a great starting point, one that benefits giver, receiver and everyone in between. Think of how you feel when you’re in the presence of someone who not just accepts or tolerates “what-is”, but fully enjoys and appreciates it! Think how you feel when you know you’ve had that effect on others.
One of the ways I’ve learned to appreciate my connection with Lilah and others is through sharing stories. What began as the simple intention of giving back to my mother, has turned into a mission of helping families connect during the changing developmental stages of aging.
A story is more than the sum of words + pictures on a page. It can be a catalyst to deeper connection. Stories and books become a tool for that connection, not the means to an end!
To cultivate that connection through books, here are some things to keep in mind when reading together:
- Release any expectation. Sometimes you will have a captive audience when reading the story, other times it may spark an alternate conversation and still other times it may appear that nothing is happening. Let whatever happens be OK. The point is you are together, present with one another.
- Allow this be an interactive process. Some ways to do this are:
- Expand on the story. If an element of the story reminds you of a personal experience, consider weaving that in with the book.
- Ask simple questions. What does your listener think about a certain sentence or verse of the book? Does it remind them of anything they have ever done before? How do they feel about a particular aspect of the story?
- Create an activity around the story. Drawing, coloring, doodling, writing, rhyming, alliterations, singing, these are all simple activities to incorporate into the story telling.
- Enjoy yourself. The best gift you can bestow on someone is the joy you feel because you are with them. Don’t force this, as it will be frustrating to all involved. If you’re not “in the mood”, honor that and return to it another time when the conditions are right. The importance of this cannot be overstated!
Sharing yourself with someone in this way can express profound appreciation that will last long after they have passed on. Like now: The gratitude I have for Lilah is already making its way to you!