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

by Kareen King on 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 the magical ability to redo anything we didn’t get right the first time?

So, while facilitating The Martin Luther King Jr. Experience a couple weeks ago, we talked about the definition of prejudice, exploring its meaning – prejudgment without enough facts to draw a fair conclusion. I asked the residents to reminisce about racial inequality. The following are a few of their recollections:

“We moved from Montana to Kansas and bought a service station. It had some cabins and a little restaurant. I was out there one Sunday evening in the kitchen and heard a knock on the door. A young black man wanted to buy some food for his family. I was amazed that he came to the back door, but we fixed him what he wanted and he paid for it. But there was a law in Kansas that black people couldn’t come in the front dining room. And I thought, ‘Isn’t that terrible for that young man to have to come to the back door?’ That was back in World War II, around 1949 or 1950.”

“As a youth, I had eczema which caused me to have a blemish on my face. When I got to school, two colored girls said, ‘Oh, look at that poor white girl’s face.’ I thought, ‘If they showed that much compassion to me, why shouldn’t I show the same compassion to them?’”

“I was traveling for Westinghouse and I had to go down south. At that time we were setting up laundry mats clear across the country. We changed buses in Cincinnati. I got into the bus, walked to the back, and sat down. The driver walked back and said, ‘This is for coloreds back here.’ And I said, ‘I’m gonna sit here anyway.’”

“A guy moved out of my little Kansas town because a farmer was bringing in colored people to work on his farm. ‘Ain’t no colored kids gonna go to school with MY kids!’ They moved to California. He didn’t want any of his kids going to school with any black kids.”

The list could go on, but the point is that it was important for them to tell their stories, to allow them to make amends with the past. They were simply waiting to be asked.

We also shared words and phrases that came to mind as we thought of who Martin Luther King Jr. was. I assembled the words into the following poem:

Martin Luther King Jr. Poem

Admired, black, Reverend, husband, father

Started a movement

Civil rights, march over the bridge, people of color

Equality, inequality

Equality and justice for everyone, no matter the color

Racism, dreams, peace

The bus ride, riots, the flag

Hate, violence, segregation

Fire hoses, dogs, fighting

Speeches, courage, bravery

End of racial discrimination

God

All people are created equal

It’s a shame we lost him at a young age

A 96-year-old gentleman concluded, “Our president now is half black and half white. We’ve made some progress.”

One other theme of Groundhog Day is the shadow. According to today’s prediction pronounced at Punxsutawney, PA, there was no shadow to be seen. Thus, an early spring is forecast. Speaking of shadow, I now offer shadowing opportunities. If you are interested, or know of someone interested in spending a day or two observing how creative engagement groups work in older adult care communities, let me know. I work with a variety of cognitive abilities and memory challenges, and I’d love to share the magic with you! How delightful it would be to show more and tell less!

For now, don’t cry over the missed opportunities and the blunders. Instead, look for the lesson and the gift in each. And maybe you’ll do just a little better next time around!

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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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What Makes an Activity Engaging?

April 30, 2015

If you’re curious about what makes or doesn’t make an experience engaging, read the following true story: Many years ago in a land far away, I visited an Alzheimer’s/Dementia Assisted Living community designed to “give life” to all residents. I sat in on one of many activities of the day and observed “Mary,” a Life […]

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