by Kareen King on July 4, 2014

Happy Red, White, and Blue - Photo Collage by Kareen King, Founder of The Golden Experience® Happy Red, White, and Blue – Photo Collage by Kareen King, Founder of The Golden Experience®


It was the night of the annual 4th of July celebration. Rows of spectators sat waiting with anticipation on the hilltop as karaoke music wafted through the air. It was a perfect evening; no wind or humidity, clear sky, 70 degrees. Then I realized she was not out with the rest of us.

I walked back inside the building, down the neighborhood hallway, and entered her room. It was dark and stuffy. She was lying in bed, half asleep, half awake. I wasn’t sure.

I walked toward her, spoke her name and waited for a response. Her listless face studied mine for a moment.

ME: It’s me, Kareen. I’ve missed you. It’s beautiful outside right now. Is it o.k. if I open the window to let in the fresh air?

She nodded. I opened the window.

ME: Do you feel it?

She nodded again and smiled.

HER: That makes all the difference.

I stood by the window for awhile, commenting on the evening activities and beautiful weather. The space between her window and bed left little room for me to crouch low to be at eye level with her. But I managed to squeeze between the mattress and the wall and squat beside her. We stayed with each other for a moment while the distant sounds of people and karaoke mingled.

Then, without warning, I watched her manicured fingers surface from her bed sheet and reach toward me. I took her hand and continued to be present with her, eye to eye as the evening air breathed life into her room.

ME: Would you like to have your bed turned so you can see out your window and watch the fireworks?

HER: Yes.

I left her room and located two kind Nurse Aides who promptly turned her bed around and elevated her head.

ME: Can you see outside now?

HER: Yes.

An idea popped into my brain. Before our encounter, I was roving around with my Emilou puppet, interacting with the residents and townspeople, or helping with the karaoke music.

ME: Hey, do you have any favorite songs?

HER: I don’t know.

ME: Do you know Delta Dawn?

She wrinkled her forehead as if perplexed. Then, to my surprise, uttered the first line.

ME: Great! I’m going outside to sing it for you. You just wait here and in a few minutes you’ll hear me say your name from the loudspeaker when I sing. Is that o.k. with you?

She smiled and nodded. I left her room and did as promised. I returned a few moments later.

ME: Did you hear me sing for you and say your name?

HER: Yes.

ME: Oh, good!

HER: Guess what I’ve been doing today?

ME: What?

HER: Feathering.

ME: Feathering?

HER: (Beams)

ME: Well, good for you! How long have you been at it?

HER: Six hours.

ME: Well, that’s wonderful. That’s something I’ve never done!

HER: (She beamed and nodded)

We stayed together a little while longer.

ME: Well, I’ve got to go. I’m so glad we had this time together. I love you.

We embraced.

HER: I love you, too.

I never cease to be amazed at the human capacity for survival. Before my arrival, she was busy in her mind’s eye, feathering. The next day I looked up feathering on the internet.  To feather is to provide with feathers, as an arrow; to clothe or cover with or as with feathers, to row an oar after a stroke so that the blade becomes nearly horizontal and to hold it thus as it is moved back into position for the next stroke.

I assume that none of those definitions fit. So I called my 83-year-old mother-in-law to ask if she’d heard of feathering. She hadn’t, unless it meant filling a pillow with goose feathers. So, I searched the Internet again and discovered featherbedding. Perhaps my friend had been featherbedding all day.

I called her nurse. A brief review of her social history shed no further light.

Maybe it really doesn’t matter. She kept busy until I arrived. No more feathering needed during the moments we spent together.

What remains to be seen is how long the space was contained after my departure. Did the experience of our visit linger in her mind? Did her attention remain on the magical outdoor sounds and smells of fresh air and popcorn?

Or did she return to feathering once her Nurse Aides repositioned her bed, closed the window, and said good night?


We Learn to Live in Love

by Kareen King on June 30, 2014

Since my return from The Memory Bridge Retreat, I’ve taken more time to practice the skill of attention with not only the long-term care residents I work with, but also friends, coworkers, and family members. I have felt more present with them, and they with me. I have had more meaningful interactions with everyone I’ve been with.

A most profound, but simple moment occurred shortly after returning to the workplace from the retreat. I sat down with a little lady who has dementia and doesn’t speak coherently. In such a situation, it’s easy to quickly tune out. I stayed present with her, however, and leaned in to everything she was saying. It went something like this:
HER: “Yada yada yada yada yada yada yada yada yada yada.”
ME: “Mm-hmm.”
HER: “Yada yada yada yada yada yada yada yada yada yada.”
ME: “Mm-hmm.”
HER: “We learn to live in love.”
ME: “Did you just say, ‘We learn to live in love?’”
HER: “Yes. Yada yada yada yada yada yada yada yada.”

"We Learn to Live in Love" - Photo by Kareen King, Founder of The Golden Experience® “We Learn to Live in Love” – Photo by Kareen King, Founder of The Golden Experience®


How I Met My Sunshine: A Memoir on Connecting with an Individual With Dementia

June 28, 2014

  Day One: “Hi. I’m Kareen,” I introduced myself to Lily. She, a 91-year-old lady with dementia, was seated contentedly in an easy chair watching the world go by. I sat beside her and introduced myself. She smiled and took immediate notice of my turquoise beaded necklace. I removed it from my neck and placed […]

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A Creative Way to Remove Aches and Pains From a Nursing Home Resident

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The other day I facilitated a creative engagement gathering regarding all things the letter “E.” I noticed that Edna, normally spunky and fun, had her head buried in her hands. “What the matter, Edna?” I inquired. “Oh, I got aches and pains,” she replied. In hopes to elevate her spirits and redirect her focus, I […]

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The Soldier Who Faded Away

May 26, 2014

It was a Thursday, late afternoon, May 1st, 2014. A gentleman stood beside a suitcase along the highway, straight and tall, poised and elegant in stature. He appeared as a man in his seventies or eighties, hair white and wavy, not quite shoulder length. He wore a dark navy suit jacket that draped to the […]

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Culture Change Info Makes it to Kansas Country Living Magazine

May 9, 2014

Ladies and Gentleman! I am proud to announce that an article I wrote on Culture Change made it to the May, 2014 issue of Kansas Country Living Magazine as part of honoring National Nursing Home Week which is observed May 11-17. I invite you to take a peek!A Movement To Be Reckoned With by Kareen […]

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What I Found Along the Roadside Just for Betty

April 18, 2014

I sat on the floor beside her bed once again, sharing my photo captures of the week. Betty oohed and aahed, putting in a request before I left. “Could you find something special along the roadside for me?” she asked. “Of course I will, Betty,” I promised. “Please come back. Don’t forget. I love you.” […]

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Die Laughing or Live Trying

April 4, 2014

I asked a group of residents in a skilled nursing community if anyone had died laughing before. “Just once,” the resident “comedian” retorted. Realizing I had tapped into a goldmine of witticisms and one-liners, I declared to the man who was sitting in his wheelchair, “Why, you’re a sit-down comedian!” “No I’m not,” he quipped […]

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Venting Your Spleen

March 24, 2014

To vent one’s spleen is to express anger. Sometimes it presents as displacement of anger, such as kicking the door when you’d rather yell at someone. The phrase was introduced to me last week by an older adult during a St. Patrick’s Day creative engagement gathering with a group of residents. It was used while […]

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How to Be a Good Aunt and What That Has to Do With Gerontology

March 9, 2014

I am playing catch-up after exhibiting and presenting for an AGHE (Association for Gerontology in Higher Education) conference in Denver, Colorado. During my stay, I opted to spend the nights with my brother Mark’s family in Erie, Colorado, a 35-minute commute from Denver. I also brought along my dear friend, Darlene, as a traveling companion […]

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