Tag Archives: memory

A little bit of grace…

Today I Danced…

I don’t dance… at least I try to avoid it.

I love to listen to music but my creative gifts don’t lie in really hearing the notes of the music or making my own. My rhythm is, to say the least… lacking and I am self conscious in my moving body… never sure what my feet are doing or how to move gracefully from one place to another. And I don’t even know where to begin to put my hands, my arms… my hips.

But today I was working with my Alzheimer’s group. This a group of people who have young-onset Alzheimer’s and they are progressing to the point where many of them can’t speak to their experiences. Their verbal ability is waning as the disease progresses but they enjoy music, hitting a drum, and working with art materials that don’t require finite motor skills.

An amazing music therapist and I work together to provide them with opportunities to communicate through sound and images. This often evokes memories and deep joy as well as sadness. Today as we worked with drums the music therapist said that often when people are drumming they are able to be fully present in the moment, losing themselves in the beat and rhythms of these simple sounds.

As we were drumming one woman conveyed in a few words and by showing us on her drum the way she learned to drum in Mexico. And then our music therapist began playing the song La Bamba on her guitar. As the song unfolded and the members of the group began to pick up the beat on their drums this woman came alive and began dancing in her chair. Our therapist asked her if she wanted to dance and she nodded yes and so I got up to help her up out of her chair. But once she was up she didn’t let go of me and she began to dance…

In those moments, lost in her joy I joined her in the dance and we clumsily danced in a small circle while the others drummed and the music therapist sang and played. It was simple and beautiful and awkward, we communicated through the movement and I followed her lead moving in a circle, twirling and swinging close and moving away forgetting to be anxious.

There was a time this woman would have danced circles around me and later her husband told me that they used to go out and dance techno, that she loved it.

On the days I work with these folks I am filled with such a mix of emotions. I am so sad for what they are losing, their memories, their independence, even their identities. The glimpses we receive, into their lives and stories are like small gifts of light, like stars that glimmer for moments in a dark sky and then disappear behind clouds.

But as they live with their disease they invite us to be singularly present with them in the moment. Whatever happened moments ago is forgotten and what is about to unfold is beyond their control. There is only right now. This beat, this note, this song. I am so deeply thankful to receive their wisdom and to live in this space with them and be invited to dance.

I don’t speak Spanish and when I got home today I looked up the lyrics to La Bamba. I discovered the first few lines of song translated into English are,

In order to dance the Bamba

In order to dance the Bamba

You need a little bit of grace

a little bit of grace

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Lent 3.31.11

Collective Memory


For almost two years I’ve been working with a group of folks who are dealing with Young Onset Alzheimer’s. Once a month the Rush University Medical Center’s Memory Clinic sponsors a group called Without Warning. The group came about because there was a growing number of people experiencing memory issues and receiving Alzheimer’s diagnosis in their late 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Memory loss sucks at any point but for these folks the challenges are unique. They find themselves unable to focus, plagued by confusion and sometimes unaware that it’s even happening… in the midst of family, careers and relationships. They expected to continue making memories for many more years rather than beginning to forget.

I hang out for a couple of hours with a group that is willing to put up with my art-making and materials as a way to facilitate group conversations and record our stories. Mostly I listen and I marvel at these people who’s lives are in constant transition, who may not remember how to get to where they’re going every time they leave their homes, they forget where the dishes go and how to cook and how to related to their partners and children. They are funny and brave and they have amazing, heart-breaking and hilarious stories.

Last week when I was with them I became aware of how one man in particular who has lost his memory’s grip on his personal history has begun to adopt the larger story of his generation as his own. He will talk and relive memories from the sixties that he did not experience first hand but that were the marks of his generation. He can’t remember anymore whether he fought in Vietnam or where he lived or grew up but he’s adopted the broad strokes of that time as a way of describing his experience. My time with them has turned my concept of memory and identity on it’s head.

As these individuals lose their memories they also begin to live into each day, hour by hour, many of them move forward into the unknown with a sense of hope that isn’t simple or easy. This drawing is for these amazing folks that agree to make art with me and let me make drawings to tell their stories and hold their memories. As time passes they  will rely on the collective memory of their generations, their families and their friends to keep them grounded and to tether them to their lives. I love them.


Filed under daily drawings