Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen’s book, “My Grandfather’s Blessings” is opening my heart and mind. Dr. Remen writes exquisitely about the wisdom of her grandfather and her own approach to patients who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. She also writes about other doctors and how their presence, not their medical expertise, was often what the patient needed.
In the chapter entitled, Becoming a Blessing, Rachel writes about a woman with Alzheimer’s.
‘As a result of her disease, Muriel had not spoken in many months. But drawn to the image in the mirror for reasons long forgotten, she began to speak a language all her own. Day after day she would stand and talk to the woman in the mirror for hours on end. It made her calm.
‘The nurses welcomed this new behavior with relief. Her endless pacing and anxiety had made her very difficult to care for. Accustomed to much random senseless behavior on the part of patients, they paid little attention to how she now spent her time. But her doctor saw this differently. Every day on his rounds, he would stop at the mirror and spend some time with this patient. Standing next to her, he would talk to the woman in the mirror with his usual kindness and respect. Once at the end of one of his longer chat’s with Muriel, he was deeply moved to notice that Muriel had tears in her eyes.”
My dad, Gordon Clark, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in the late 80’s. He died in 1993. He was living in a care facility. When I last saw him, he didn’t recognize me. He knew I was someone from the family but did not know that I was his daughter. I stopped by to tell him that my husband and I were on our way to California where I would be the newly appointed Senior Minister of the Spiritual Center in Bonita.
While we visited, I noticed how his care-givers did not treat him with respect and kindness. It seemed to me that they were cheerful but they were busy.
I am so grateful to read the excerpt on Muriel.
I can see what is possible for people with advanced dementia. It is possible that their doctors would see them as valuable human beings.
From the beautiful stories in this book, I am awakening to a deeper awareness that it isn’t our knowledge that heals. It is the consciousness with which we engage with one another.
What I am asking myself is: Did I shut anyone out of my heart today?
Did I look to see the presence of the divine in each being? Did I bring myself fully present without urgency, hurry or preconceived ideas?
I believe that when we enter situations and conversations, without an agenda but with a willingness to see the divinity of both ourselves and other people, we make space for healing to occur.