The impact of Living Words can be read about in the following article published in the Spartanburg Herald Journal on August 24, 2008.
By Jeremy Jones
The (Living Words Program) has helped Buddy Taylor focus on his family and reconnect with his daughter.
In January, when the series began, Taylor was uncomfortable with the idea of putting his thoughts on paper. Furthermore, he was frustrated by how hard it was to express the vivid images, deep emotions and complex thoughts in his mind. Even so, Taylor discovered that sometimes it’s easier to confide things, both to himself and to the rest of the world, by writing about it first. And, always, it is worth the discomfort and the challenge to do so.
(Living Words) is a collaboration among the Alzheimer’s Association S.C. Chapter, the Hub City Writers Project and Wofford College. For the past eight months, local writers such as John Lane, Elizabeth Cox and Kirk Neely have visited the Early Stage support group, talked about their writing and given group members creative writing exercises.
In general terms, the program encourages members of the (Alzheimer’s) Early Stage Support group – both people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers – to write in a variety of modes, including reminiscence writing, haiku, fiction and personal essay.
For example, a few weeks ago, Wofford College psychology professor Kara Bopp, whose research specialties include aging and memory, suggested a simple exercise, which she called “words of wisdom.”
“Choose someone you care about,” Bopp said, “and write down at least three pieces of wisdom.”
In response to Bopp’s prompt, Taylor, with the assistance of his wife, Marlu, directed his words of wisdom toward his adult daughter. “Don’t take yourself seriously,” Taylor wrote. “Never go to bed upset with anyone. (And,) your character is all you have, so protect it.”
As members of the group read their words of wisdom aloud, patterns started to emerge. Many of the group members who participated encouraged keeping in touch with loved ones, learning to say “I’m sorry” and, perhaps most importantly, listening to other people.
Ordinarily animated and full of good cheer, Taylor and his wife were particularly upbeat during this exercise. Indeed, most of the 12 or so people present wrote with smiles on their faces and were quick to share what they had written with the person sitting next to them.
Time, hectic schedules, children and life in general sometimes get in the way of relationships. Children grow up and move away. Parents retire to someplace sunnier. Regrettably, the diagnosis of a chronic illness such as Alzheimer’s can also draw a wedge between family members. The reasons for this are many, not the least of which is that it is hard to see a loved one’s memory and personality deteriorate.
But, as Taylor discovered over the past eight months, hard and uncomfortable tasks can have a particularly pleasant payoff. After a lengthy period of time when life got in the way, Taylor and his daughter now get together once a week to talk about the writing that Taylor has done, to reminisce and to go on short road trips for the first time in many years.
“The writing series gave Buddy and his daughter a way of communicating,” said Marlu Taylor, during the end of session evaluation interviews conducted by Wofford student Danielle Rekers. “I’m glad that the Alzheimer’s Association did the (Living Words Program).”
According to Bopp, writing down words of wisdom – the lessons learned over the course of a person’s life – gives a person the chance to reminisce, to feel important and valued, and also to be freed of the challenge of remembering all the little things that can be, for a person with Alzheimer’s, so frustrating to remember. Patients and caregivers often find that, regardless of the details and specific incidents, certain truths have a way of rising up out of the past. And behind each gem of wisdom is a wealth of emotions and memories.
Underlying Bopp’s words of wisdom exercise is the belief that everyone has a story to share. By sharing, an individual reaches beyond herself, connects with others, and validates her own life while contributing to the lives of others.
This exercise and the others that came during the course of the (Living Words Program) have given Buddy and Marlu Taylor a new habit of writing down the funny things Buddy says and the fun things they do as a couple throughout the day. It is, Marlu explains, a way of keeping a record of their lives.
It’s also good for laughter and new stories.
At the end of the words of wisdom exercise, when asked to give bad advice, Taylor wrote, “What not to do: break a promise, think (you are) perfect, (or) disappoint a friend.” Summing it all up, Taylor added, “It all gets down to honesty and integrity.” And, as Marlu reminded Buddy, “Humor is good, too!”
And Buddy couldn’t have agreed more.