Blessings Bank

Posted by Cheryl on Jul 23, 2011 in Main Categories |

“Work to create moments of joy.” That’s the advice I got last week from Art, while I was sitting in the kitchen of the hospice where my Dad is living out the last part of his journey. I was chatting a bit with Art, a palliative care-worker, and he started talking about the powerful, lasting effects that even a brief experience of real joy can have on a person’s overall sense of well-being. It was the day after my Dad’s 75th birthday; I was thanking them for all they’d done to make it a truly special occasion. For his birthday lunch, they’d prepared a favourite meal for Dad, and when he told them he’d really prefer to have lunch in his bedroom, they just made that happen. Wheeled in a table and set it all up for Dad and me and my brother, brought in beautiful china plates and patterned linen napkins. Set one golden flower from the garden in a crystal vase in the centre, and then they left us to privately eat and visit. But after lunch, they invaded the place! I knew only a couple of the staff that crowded into the tiny room – nine of them in all! Chocolate cake in hand, candles forming a circle around the blue icing wishing, “Happy Birthday, Ralph!”, and all of them smiling, singing loudly, looking straight into the face of my father, who they’d only met weeks before.

I couldn’t take my eyes off my Dad. He sat still and quiet on his bed, his eyes moving slowly from one to the other of these people who are complete strangers to him. Nine of them crowded into the bedroom he accepts as his own; he believes he’s in some sort of retirement home. He has a condition that has almost completely robbed him of his short term memory, so he simply does not, cannot, recognize people or environments unless he’s known them for a very long time. But in the unexpected celebration they were gifting him with, it didn’t seem to matter. His face relaxed, softened, and he took on a look which can only be described as joyful. Because he can recognize care and love, for sure. He got over the surprise and his eyes never left them, and when the singing and clapping stopped, he stared at them happily in complete silence for a few seconds more. And then he put his hand to his heart and slowly said, “I thank each and every one of you! I thank you very much, indeed.”

Art told me that there’s research showing that creating a moment of joy for a person whose mind is somehow locking out memory has the most amazing long-term benefits. Even though they are not able to remember the specific moment for any space of time, the feeling of joy, the sensation of happiness, continues long after the actual event. And therefore, for days or weeks after even a short but positive, heartfelt interaction, the mind and the body continue to experience positive energy. This also works for great memories that can be conjured up from the past. Just thinking about those really happy times floods our systems with long lasting goodness.

I’ve been reflecting on that ever since, and I realize how incredibly lucky I am that I can sit here today, back in my own home, and immediately conjure up exceptional moments of joy from my lifetime. First thing that jumps into my mind is sledding on an old wooden tobaggan, years ago with my kids on a winter night in the field in front of our Quebec country home; the only ones out playing in the cold, shrieking as we sailed down the hill and laughing together in the dark, falling off and getting tangled up in each other, covered in snow….. absolute JOY! And there are so many others. I’m going to make sure I keep filling up that bank of blessings. And, when the time comes that I am old and many days are a struggle, should I be confused and unsure of what’s real and true, someone please remind me of sledding with the children in the starlight.

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