The Human Need for Recognition

by Kareen King on July 8, 2016

King Family Vacation 2016 King Family Vacation 2016

The photo is from my family’s vacation in the Tetons, the most recent of a series of traveling adventures that have kept me busier than ever. Over the last four months I’ve been to North Carolina, Tennessee, Germany, Norway, Chicago, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Wyoming, and Idaho. I feel like singing, “I’ve Been Everywhere.” I’ve hardly had a chance to breathe, even reporting to work on Memorial Day, from which the story you’re about to experience emerged. Yet, every bit of it has been amazing, including a fantastic experience presenting for the MC5 Conference in Columbia, MO.

Meanwhile, while preparing for my next creative engagement “Kettle,” I discovered the story behind the man who discovered fingerprinting for the purpose of forensic science. He was Henry Faulds, a scientist, missionary, and Scottish physician who died at the age of 86, bitter over the lack of recognition he’d received for his work.

I’ve been pondering this need we humans have for recognition. It was especially notable as I prepared the toast for my father’s 80th birthday celebration in June. To assist me in this important event, his wife gave me pages of his life-long achievements to draw from. My dad, like anyone else, wants his family to know what he accomplished in his 80 years of life, thus far. He wants to feel significant. Unfortunately, until recent years, I wasn’t all that interested in what my dad was about. I regret this.

Recently, while seated at a table of assisted living residents, a gentleman began acknowledging me from across the room. He said that for a long time, he and his wife resisted the idea of moving to a “rest home,” but that they have since discovered it to be a good choice, with me playing a role in his current satisfaction. As he continued talking, a woman at my table murmured comments suggesting I’d just become another victim of his long-windedness. Others echoed her sentiments with knowing glances and grins. Though his fellow residents seem to tolerate his detailed pontifications, not everyone has the time necessary to grasp the vast amount of knowledge this man has to offer.

Suddenly I had the notion to grab my laptop so I could transcribe his interesting tale about his service in the military. Since it was Memorial Day, I thought it might be useful to see if the story was worth sharing. I think it is. After I joined his table to listen and ask questions, he said, “Thanks for listening. Most people don’t seem to take an interest.” And now, prepare to be amazed . . .

The longest name I ever typed in the Navy as chief personnel man was Wilhelmina, Helena, Paulina, Maria Lindgren, named after Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. She was Dutch. Now, here’s one for you. All Portuguese normally name the children the middle names of the maiden name of the mother. So, if the maiden name was Clay, all the children’s middle names would be Clay. And then the Danish often times change the surname to the feminine name. About every three or four generations, they can change the surname.

I had a chief petty officer that I served with whose last name was Hjelt – H-j-e-l-t. That was part of a lengthy name – about the middle five or six letters of the middle name. When he immigrated, the Danish name was so long, it just didn’t work.

The strangest name I’ve ever seen in 20 years of looking at names happened when the father and mother argued about what middle name to give to their boy. They couldn’t agree to agree, so finally, since she was a secretary, they named him the home keys of the typewriter. That was on his birth certificate.

 Now, back in those days, you see, there was no one to issue a birth certificate. You just had the family Bible. We got our birth certificate from the Department of Commerce from Washington DC. That’s where my birth is registered, in the international archives of Washington DC. The states weren’t set up to register births back in the twenties. 

A funny little story, Alfred Victor Monroe – A.V. Monroe – Alfred Victor Monroe had nine kids. He was in the Navy with me. One day he was walking across the hangar deck as a first class petty officer, and Commander Means come wizzing across the deck and said, “Monroe, I need to use you for a little while. We got a beach craft parked out and we need you to run that baby.”

They had an urn. A mortuary in the town of the city had called up and said that this man had died and he was a veteran who wanted his ashes spread across the area where the Naval Base was. Interesting, right? They hopped in a beach craft, and got Monroe in there and got the urn. I forgot who the co-pilot was. Hmm . . . let me think . . . his name will come to me (Note: It did, by the way, but I missed it because I could barely transcribe fast enough to keep up with him). And they took off and went down the runway a ways, and Commander Charles Means, a Navy Commander Pilot, said, “In that box is some ashes that his funeral home gave us. We’re going to throttle back real slow and we want you to dump those ashes out when we tell you.”

Hehehe – it’s going to get better. So they throttle back real slow, and Alfred Monroe opened the back door just a tad and said, “We gotta get this airplane on the ground.” And the commander said, “I never seen a black man so white before in my life.” Because the ashes got all over him. When they landed and taxied up to operations, and it quit rolling, they said that Monroe headed for the barracks so he could get a bath.

Then there was Charlie Lifer – that’s what we call someone who stays in for life. But that was his real name! I could tell you funny things. When you get the story right, then the names fall in place.

So, may I ask, what gems are we inadvertently missing out on because of the old adage, “Familiarity breeds contempt”? If you’ve grown indifferent, I’m here to give you a little wake up call. Look. Listen. Acknowledge. Recognize. Embrace. It’s what “The Golden Experience” is all about.

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Winds of Change

by Kareen King on March 22, 2016

Frog Eyes (a better version) by kareenking

I took the above photo a couple weeks ago. It took a lot of work to get down on my hands and knees to get this shot while on a walk along the Flint Hills Nature Trail. It took some work to get down on my knees just the other day to play my guitar at eye level for a woman with dementia who had just suffered a stroke. But it was worth it on both counts.

In the meantime, I’m in the throes of March and its infamous winds. Speaking of, I’m experiencing the winds of change, having just made a monumental decision to give myself fully to the Golden Experience and let go of my role as Adjunct Instructor,teaching Public Speaking and Theatre Appreciation since 2001. It was not an easy decision, as I have loved shaping the lives of young people who are trying to find their voice and discover who they really are. And yet, there’s an equal value of impacting the final stage of elders. Just the other day, I received word of the death of one of my favorite individuals, a 97-year-old lady who lived with dementia. She was such a delight, raising her frail arms to the heavens and weeping with joy each week I filled her little world with all her favorite hymns and songs. Her daughter wrote me and said,  “I cannot tell you the amount of joy you brought my Mom in her last years  with your music, friendship, testimony, and genuine love and concern.  You are truly one who walks amongst us.   Thank you.”

In the meantime, I just wanted to do a quick check-in, as it’s been awhile since I last blogged. Some exciting things are underway. I’ll be presenting for the Central Regional North American Drama Therapy Association in April, the MC5 Conference in Columbia, MO in May, the Creative Aging Festival in Bloomington, IN in May, and the MidAmerica Institute on Aging Conference in August.  I’ve also just learned that my proposal for a half-day intensive at the Pioneer Network Conference, which takes place July 31-August 3 in New Orleans, LA, has been accepted. Here is the title and description:

Let’s Get Unreal! Practical Tools to Incorporate Creativity for Life Enrichment

Discover thrilling possibilities when relationship-centered enrichment occurs in an experience that leaves elders saying things like, “You’re a brain stretcher. You make us look outside our world,” and “This makes the week. Do we think of pains and aches? No we don’t.” Kareen King, Creative Engagement Specialist, shares field-tested tools that foster the desire Elders have to learn, play, discover, create, belong, and express themselves. Groundwork will be laid on the basics of creative improvisation and how it works with storytelling, poetry, conversation, music, and more. Participants will both learn and experience techniques, and will discover how creativity can occur during personal care and mealtime, not just during planned activities.

If you are interested in learning more about the conference which is all about changing the culture of aging, click http://www.pioneernetwork.net/Events/2016Conference/. Also, I would LOVE to present a creative engagement training for your organization.

I also had the pleasure of presenting two concerts for a large church in central Kansas. The reception to the message of loving elders by giving them the gift of attention and love was overwhelming. Many said they were moved to tears, and several shared personal stories of caring for aging parents. One emailed me later saying, “Your ministry touches lives, moves hearts, and brings tears to our eyes!  I wish you could speak at every nursing home and every church.  Your message and your experiences are so needed in this era of thinking that the elderly have somehow lost their value, have no feelings and that their cries for help and love are chalked up as dementia.”

A day later I received a FB message from a name I didn’t at first recognize. It took awhile before I finally realized it was in response to a beautiful experience I had following a keynote I did for an Alzheimer’s Conference a couple years ago. Right after my presentation, a kind older gentleman approached me, asking if I’d visit his wife who had Alzheimer’s. I soon found myself a passenger in his car in a large city, trusting the process even though I felt a little apprehensive at first. After arriving at his beautiful home, I spent the next hour and a half sharing familiar songs at the piano with his wife while he and his daughter looked on.  His daughter wrote, “I wanted you to know that my sweet mom died Feb 7. You provided her, and us, such warmth and comfort during our brief interlude with you. I will always be grateful. Keep doing what you do…it’s desperately needed. Hugs and peace to you.” And, on a whim, I visited this gentleman while driving home from a Christine Kane business retreat in Asheville, North Carolina. It was such a delight to see him and encourage him as he learns to adjust to life without the companionship of his beloved wife.

And finally, on an even lighter note, I had the pleasure of meeting an ombudsman the other day when she showed up in on one of my creative engagement gatherings. I was telling the tale of Hansel and Gretel during our “Candy Experience” and the residents and I were in the middle of a hideous face contest which was hilariously fun. This was inspired by the “hideous old hag” who had plans to eat Hansel and Gretel for lunch. I wish you could have seen all the ridiculous faces made by all the residents.

Anyway, the ombudsman later dropped me the following note: “You just know special when you run into it! It was an awesome experience to see so many smiling faces. So many engaged people all happy to be where they were…doing what they were doing. Sadly, a rare experience in my work. I see in small doses but not to the level today when I stumbled upon your group. Thank you for what you do…so many young people in aging bodies. It is nice to see them who they are inside.”

It’s these kinds of comments are what keep me moving along the winds of creatively engaging the world of aging. And, thus, it makes my vocational choice pretty obvious. It’s not just a job. It’s a calling. So, onward and upward with The Golden Experience!

Love from Kareen – Working with organizations that want to create a culture where elders and their caregivers feel loved, validated, and creatively engaged!

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A Look Back on Prejudice

February 2, 2016

Happy Groundhog Day! It’s been a whirlwind year so far! The 1993 film, “Groundhog Day,” starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, portrays what happens when one gets infinite chances to do it over again. The 2013 film, “About Time,” which I highly recommend, illustrates the same concept. Wouldn’t that be lovely if we all had […]

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Kareen King’s Year 2015 in Review

December 31, 2015

It’s been a fantastic year. I mean fantastic. I can’t even begin to convey how full of gratitude I am and why. I’m on fire. Yep. A year ago, not so much. A year ago I was contemplating closing shop with The Golden Experience. I was burnt out, disheartened, and stuck in patterns of thinking […]

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Mini Documentary of Kareen King by KU Students

December 15, 2015

Am proud of my baby daughter Kat’s musical and artistic endeavors. Besides being a singer-songwriter and recording artist who recently released her third album at age 21, she is also dabbling in film. Here’s a short documentary she and a few of her classmates created of my unconventional life.

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Are You Afraid to Talk About Fear With Your Elders?

October 31, 2015

I took the above photo, assuming the black snake was dead. Had I known he was only playing possum because of his terror of me, I would never have gotten down on my hands and knees and inched my face so closely toward his to get this shot. Of what are you terrified? Are you […]

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How to Transform a Dull Topic into a Dazzling Experience!

September 29, 2015

I love challenges. I especially love creating something amazing and relatable from an otherwise dull and seemingly irrelevant topic. I recently asked one of my favorite and dedicated groups of residents to think of such a topic. They chose cement. Two weeks later, I facilitated “The Cement Event.” In one magical hour we pantomimed tossing […]

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The Beauty or Cruelty of a Name

August 31, 2015

The above photo was taken at the Chicago Airport while on the way home from presenting at the MidAmerica Institute on Aging. Though I’m sure the people behind the campaign depicted in the poster were well intended, I’ve pondered its message: “We’ve changed enough diapers to last a lifetime. We don’t want our kids doing […]

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How to Animate a Roomful of Strangers

June 29, 2015

So, what happens when you add water to a garden of human beings? This metaphor was introduced to me via Michael Verde, the compassionate genius behind Memory Bridge, an organization whose mission is to seek “people who share our dedication to ending the social isolation of people with dementia through learning how to be with […]

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What Individuals With Dementia Say About Their Brains

May 31, 2015

The above photo depicts for me the essence of loneliness. I spotted him out in a field in the rain. It’s my intention to bridge the gap between loneliness and friendship through creative engagement combined with love and belonging. Last week, I used Wizard of Oz topics, including the brain, as conversation starters. Amazingly, no matter […]

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