The Perfect Match and a Perfect Team for Overcoming Alzheimer’s Care Barriers!

Six months ago prior to February 14th, 2022 the only thing I was familiar with about the pharmaceutical company Genentech was their tv commercials for various medicines. I had no idea that a connection made on that day would change the lives of everyone involved in an absolutely perfect way. The first email I received from Jenee Williams, the Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Advocacy Relations team for Genentech appeared in my inbox at 11am on Valentine’s Day. She introduced herself, expressed interest in my book and my work with LEGO bricks and requested an introductory Zoom meeting! There was something so warm about her email that I responded right away and we immediately set our first meeting for February 22nd. Before our initial meeting Jenee attended the LEGOs YES LEGOs workshop I delivered for Hilarity for Charity’s (HFC) CareCon on February 18th which would have been Mom’s 93rd birthday. Jenee didn’t have LEGO bricks that day but she LOVED it, enjoying my energy during my presentation on how LEGO Serious Play (LSP) sessions bring joy and hope to those with dementia and their care partners!

Our first meeting felt like Jenee and I had known each other for years! We talked about how LSP inspires teams and we began discussing dates for me to present LSP for her team! By then Jenee was soooo excited about me and LSP that she was sharing our story with other groups within Genentech! She was becoming a walking Loretta Veney Inspires Advertising Agent and I was thrilled!

My Genentech connections expanded on April 22nd when Jenee introduced me via Zoom to Ruchir Shah, the Principal Medical Science Director for Alzheimer’s Disease and Simon Eldred, the Marketing Director for Alzheimer’s Disease, who proposed a really cool idea for a Genentech Symposium session that was going to be held in San Diego in August at the Alzheimer’s Disease International Conference (AAIC), the largest Alzheimer’s Conference in the world. The plan was to bring together a multidisciplinary team made up of a neurologist, a nurse practitioner, an advocacy partner, a person with dementia, and me – the care partner to be part of a panel to discuss overcoming barriers to Alzheimer’s care through multidisciplinary teams. That title and subject matter may not sound very exciting, BUT the plan also included showing LEGO models representing ways to overcome barriers to Alzheimer’s care built by the team in an LEGO Serious Play event facilitated by me prior to the conference. During that introductory meeting, you could feel the excitement about how innovative this session could be with the inclusion of the LEGO models.

On May 5th I held the first LSP session for Jenee and the Alzheimer’s Disease team, which Simon and Ruchir also attended to get a feel for how the AAIC pre-event session would work! Everyone was so excited after the May 5th LSP session that they couldn’t wait until the AAIC conference pre-event Kickoff meeting scheduled for the next day.

As the Symposium Kickoff meeting began we could all truly feel the energy through the Zoom screen!! After three more planning meetings, the pre-event building session occurred on May 27th and it was a BLAST! All five participants had received a Lightbox (a box with a light to photograph the LEGO models we made), an IPhone to record our stories of what our LEGO models meant, and a huge ring light to ensure all participants had excellent lighting so all models looked the same in the photos and videos for the Symposium event. Once all of our equipment was confirmed to be set up correctly, I facilitated a regular LSP session using the questions about multidisciplinary teams that Genentech provided. It was such an inspiring and emotional session and we all felt the August live panel in San Diego would be a tremendous success!!

In July I also had the privilege of facilitating two additional LSP sessions, for Genentech’s Alzheimer’s Disease Marketing group and Jenee’s Patient Advocacy Group (PAR)! Prior to the PAR event I met Jenee in person for the first time and we spent almost 6 hours together in a LEGO store in Maryland building 20 individual LEGO minifigures for each of her team members with their names on them! What an incredible bonding time that was for us and to say that her team loved their minifigures is an understatement!!!

The PAR team with their personalized minifigures!

As July neared its end, I was getting more excited and nervous about the Symposium event and it was soooo hard to keep the secret that LEGO bricks were going to be featured in our panel event! I flew to San Diego on Saturday the 30th and spent the afternoon with my friends Bryan and Becca, a former coworker and his awesome wife who always come to meet me whenever I’m in California! On Sunday the 31st, I spent the day walking and enjoying San Diego, AND visiting the exhibit hall of AAIC!! I learned more than I can write from the different exhibits and research posters and I connected with social media connections I’d never met in person! The Genentech booth was incredibly popular, not only because of the great information they were sharing, but also because of the coffee they were serving that had a PHOTO of YOUR CHOOSING in the coffee! Does it get any better than that??? I was so proud to be part of their team! Jenee and I had a fabulous dinner and dessert in the Gaslamp Quarter and it was the perfect end to an amazing day!

On the day of the Symposium, Jenee and I walked more than 4 miles around the San Diego bay which really got our energy flowing! BUT when our panel rehearsal began I was really feeling the magnitude of being at a scientific conference and was drawing a blank on what I needed to say in spite of the fact that there was a script on large screens below the stage. After stumbling my way through my words for about 15 minutes, I left the stage to grab my handwritten notes and it was smooth sailing after that. In the 90 minutes between rehearsal and the start of the luncheon we made some quick changes to the script and the slides and I then felt ready to go! The ballroom was full of attendees and our panel was incredible – we were authentic, factual, fun, and had lots of energy as we talked about our individual perspectives of the barriers through our LEGO models! The audience enjoyed their lunches and were engaged in our presentation from beginning to end! At the end, we received a rousing applause and quite a few audience members gave us a standing ovation! Later in the evening we received information on the session evaluations that were submitted. The common themes were that the session was “inspiring”, “incredible”, “amazing”, “creative and unique”, “multidisciplinary” and “inclusive”. Genentech’s leadership thanked the panel members for taking the “creative leap of faith” to bring the LEGO model idea to fruition and for “inspiring the entire AAIC conference”. I wrote in my social media posts that it was a day I will never forget and I’m writing this blog post to ensure that I don’t forget! I could never in my wildest dreams imagine that my LEGO bricks would ever end up on any stage at AAIC, but it just goes to show you that anything is possible if you believe in it!

The Power of Re-Assuring, Re-Building and Re-Linking!

This last eight days has been a whirlwind of emotional highs and lows. And on this one year anniversary of my official retirement from my 40 year security career I am amazed by the incredible opportunities I’ve been given in my post retirement career of bringing joy and hope to caregivers!

Over the last four years I’ve worked with the Baltimore Faith-Based Commission for Behavioral Health and I’ve loved it because it focuses on preserving the physical and mental health of its clients. On June 23rd I covered an interesting topic to reassure participants that diseases that can mimic Alzheimer’s disease may actually be something else! I sure do wish Mom had one of those other diseases instead of dementia, but unfortunately that was not our journey! I’m glad that I could reassure others that forgetting where they left their keys doesn’t mean that they have Alzheimer’s disease!

The very next day on the 24th I offered part II of my Life After Caregiving Exploration! Part II allowed us to “rebuild” ourselves with LEGO bricks now that our caregiver journeys have ended. It was one of the most profound things I’ve done in a long time. In the first build a woman said she was only taking “baby steps” since her Mom died a few months ago, BUT by the third build she was ready “climb a mountain”! The head of Hopkins Geriatrics emailed me on Sat morning to say how impactful the session was even 24 hours later. Having all of us build who we are today after caregiving was life changing for us! It was so successful that we’ve decided to offer my two-part Life After Caregiving class each quarter for former Johns Hopkins caregivers!

The 27th was “Re-linking” day! Charles De Vilmorin the CEO of the awesome company called Linked Senior reached out to me to ask if as a “surprise” for his team I would do a fun teambuilding session of LEGO Serious Play! Of course I said YES and it was incredible!! I had them build what they loved most about working for Linked Senior and their builds were so amazing the CEO was at a loss for words!! It was a powerful testimony on his leadership and their mission! Because of the company name I named the session ReLinking because I was so proud to be part of the group coming back together after 2.5 years apart due to Covid! Several of them had not met in person until our session!

I had been missing Mom so much since the 21st which was my first The Longest Day Alzheimer’s Association fundraiser without her! I built 50 LEGO models during the almost 16 hours of daylight but it felt different and lonely this year without Mom! But I kept going! Yesterday on the 29th I delivered a LEGO Serious Play session for Dementia Friendly America Baltimore County and it was called Living Creatively with Dementia! There were caregivers along with their care partners participating! The session had a very interesting start as the person who introduced me started by showing the news video clip of me and Mom for a May LEGO Serious Play event which I had actually never seen!

Loretta Veney and LEGO Play – in the news: https://www.wmar2news.com/goodtoknow/lego-serious-play-workshops-provides-cognitive-emotional-stimulation-for-people-with-dementia

Seeing the video shocked me and I immediately became emotional! Thankfully I was able to take a deep breath, stop my tears and recover! I could hear Mom’s voice saying “get it together and honor the commitments you make!” I received an apology that the video was shown without giving me a heads up first. I led the session with my usual joy and was proud that I didn’t let my emotions get the best of me!! The participants loved the session and I was so happy to see participants building with their partners!! It was glorious

I took most of today off and spent it with a friend at the Smithsonian exhibit on Futures!! It was insightful and inspiring and gave me lots of ideas for my Future of Re-Assuring, Re-Building and Re-Linking others for years to come!!

May 2022’s Life-Changing Connections!

May is typically known for flowers after lots of April Showers, but for me May of 2022 has been filled with Connections that already have or will in the future change my life! It started from the very first day of the month when I laced up my shoes once again for an MS Walk in Washington, DC, which I hadn’t been able to do for 10 years given my work for my Mom and her Alzheimer’s Disease! But now that Mom is no longer with us, it was very important this year for me to also return to and reconnect with the disease that took my sister Renee in 2011. I connected with Christina Taranto from the MS Society on LinkedIn and the rest was history! Even though the walk has changed over the years it sure felt great to be back! The walk was more emotional for me than I thought it would be, but it got the month off to an incredible start!

On May 2nd, I had dinner with Louise Walsh a dear friend from St. Mark’s who was on a team of people who selected guest preachers to fill in on the Sundays that our Rector Michele is on Sabbatical, and I was one of the lucky people invited to preach. Louise and I not only had a fabulous dinner, we also discussed the theme of my upcoming sermon and she encouraged me to be as honest and forthright as I wanted to be. I opened the sermon series on May 8th, my first Mother’s Day without Mom and people said it was a powerful sermon! Louise came to all three of the services that day to hear me preach and I formed a connection with people I’d seen at church for years but had never actually had a long conversation with prior to that day.

May 5th was by far the most life-changing event of the month. I had met Jenee Williams, Genentech’s Director of Patient Advocacy Relations for Alzheimer’s Disease on Mom’s birthday Feb 18th at HFC’s CareCon event where I’d done a short LEGO Serious Play (LSP) session. She loved the “taster session” so much she told everyone she worked with at Genentech about it and on May 5th I did a 90 minute LSP session with Jenee and her team. Two other Genentech employees, Simon and Ruchir, also attended that session and their attendance was the beginning of what we all believe will be an incredibly powerful relationship that could bring LSP to the world of Alzheimer’s Disease in a huge way. Several other groups at Genentech are also looking at dates for LSP events for their respective groups.

The very next day on May 6th I offered the first session of my newest presentation “Who Am I Now – Life After Caregiving”, for my beloved partners at Johns Hopkins Medicine! I loved how the session went, and with some minor additions I hope it will help many current and former caregivers as they prepare for life after caregiving. Part 2 of the session will be held at the end of June to follow-up on where people are after the first session!

On May 10th I delivered the LSP kits for the Greater Maryland Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to their new offices in Towson, Maryland. I met briefly with Program Manager Kristi Mroz, to discuss their upcoming LSP event on May 31st and got a tour of the office! I was interviewed by two Baltimore TV stations for the Alzheimer’s Association event and the newscasts aired during the week of May 18th and helped generate additional interest for the session!

I had known Nicole Schmid for several years when she worked for Artis Senior Living, and her current employer Memorial White Rose Home Health and Hospice in York PA was a sponsor of the Making a Difference in Dementia Conference where I spoke on May 13th. I had spoken virtually for the event last year, but they wanted me to come back in-person this year. I drove up the night before, but instead of staying in a hotel as we had previously discussed, Nicole offered me the use a basement apartment in her home and I accepted!! Meeting Nicole’s husband and two kids was one of the highlights of the month for sure and they treated me like royalty, including a taking me out for a delicious dinner and leaving chocolates on my bed pillow! The special treatment had me full of energy and ready to go for my presentation which went amazingly well! I also met some really talented people representing organizations throughout York during the event and also had a very successful book signing event!

The middle of the month was all about connecting with new people and places and relaxation and restoration! I flew for the first time ever to Portland, Oregon on May 15th to meet in person with a LinkedIn connection who has also worked with seniors and those with dementia with LEGO bricks! People were shocked, not only that I would agree to meet and hang out with someone I’d never met in person, but that I also agreed to spend the night with her. We had met several times on Zoom and it felt like we had known each other forever. So not only did Patty Sherin drive more than 2 hours to pick me up from the airport, she took me to more than a dozen places in ten hours where we walked, hiked, ate and drank through rain, clouds, sun, and snow! The adventure was Absolutely Sensational!!

The next day after we hiked to the Big Tree in La Pine, Patty drove me two hours to Eugene to have lunch with and hand me off to my cousin Willette before we would drive two hours to her house and I’d spend the next week with my family! During our family time together, our first since 2017, we hiked to waterfalls, spent time in downtown Portland and smaller towns, ate at food truck parks, and stayed two nights on the Oregon Coast which is indescribably beautiful!

We explored several beaches and towns, walked to lighthouses, and stopped at many breathtaking viewpoints that were each dazzling from their vantage points! The trip ended with a walk through a gorgeous Japanese Garden and dinner and wine tasting at an African-American owned Winery. I returned to Maryland on May 23rd renewed, restored and ready for more great connections!

The end of the month did not disappoint! Thanks to an introduction from the one and only Steve Gurney, founder of the Positive Aging Sourcebook I met on May 26th with Charles De Vilmorin, founder of Linked Senior, which supports person-centered care through life enrichment and dementia engagement without drug therapy! To say that Charles and I hit if off in our first Zoom meeting would be an understatement. We will be meeting again in the first week of June to make some plans for the future!! My awesome friend the Networking Queen Melissa Koppal, also introduced me to two new people I’ll be meeting with in the coming weeks who work in senior living / memory care! I swear I think Melissa and Steve know everyone on the planet!!

The Business Highlight of the month occurred on May 27th as I facilitated a recorded 2 hour LEGO Serious Play session as part 1 for an event that will conclude at a Live session in CA in early August. Stay tuned for more details for this event that will likely be one of the most memorable of my LEGO Serious Play facilitation career thus far!

There was also lots of LEGO Building this month as we are in the last few weeks before The Longest Day event on June 21st where I’ll be displaying and building LEGO models for the Alzheimer’s Association largest fundraiser of the year. I can’t close without thanking my sisters from other Mothers – Kris Lopez and Gayle Fisher Stewart who have helped me tremendously by preparing Inspiration Kits for LSP sessions and completing proposals for what we hope will be a variety of new LSP work!

Now that we’ve come to the last day of the month of May, I look back in total AWE at the dozens of people I met or reconnected with who have helped to inspire me and push me to new heights for this work I was born to do!! I give thanks for all that I accomplished this month that has laid the groundwork for what I will be able to do in the future!

This morning’s LEGO Serious Play Building Hope and Health event for the Greater Maryland Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association was excellent!! The models built and shared by participants were full of love, care, hope and plans for achieving great health for the remainder of 2022. As soon as that session was over, I headed to Lancaster, PA for six nights with my RVing Women sisters!! Having dinner with them this evening and sitting by the fire afterwards was the best possible way to say goodbye to a fabulous month!

Thank you May of 2022 for restoring and renewing me and for allowing me to recharge and even reinvent the legacy that Mom and I started! The future is extremely bright and with help from all the amazing people who love and support me, as it says on my website – I’ve Got This!

Jumping for JOY and Holding Each Other Up!

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely read many of my blogs about my adventures with the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of RVing Women – but this one was even more special than usual. This weekend was our first rally of the season and we were all so excited to be there and reconnect! I’ve LOVED all of the rallies I’ve been to with these women but there was a richness and an even deeper love and support to this one which I didn’t even know was possible. Maybe it was finally being unmasked and actually being able to hug again!! People seemed to smile more and hold on to each other longer too! For the first time I was able to arrive on a Thursday instead of Friday and that was more uplifting and joyful for me than I can actually explain.

Unfortunately two members who had planned to attend had medical emergencies arise and another had a family member death and all had to cancel. Our awesome leader had sympathy and get-well cards for them which we all added notes to and signed. We really missed their presence and carried them with us in spirit throughout the weekend.

In March a woman reached out to me via Facebook Messenger to say she had joined the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of RVing Women after being inspired by a video of me sharing my JOY about being an RVing Women member and my gratitude for how the group had helped me through the loss of my husband. She lost her husband in 2020 and was encouraged that she could still travel and camp even without her husband. We exchanged a few messages prior to the rally and we were so looking forward to meeting in person. Around 5pm Friday night she and her 18 year old daughter arrived at the campground and received the exact welcome I had described to her. Everyone showed up to help her put up something many of us had never seen, a tent attached to an SUV. You just need to trust me that it was one of the most amazing evenings ever!! There are hysterical video clips and photos of everyone working together to get her set up!! We laughed the entire time and we all cheered when the mission was finally accomplished!! Our brand new RVing Sister was overwhelmed by how welcomed she was and we all shared in that joy!

On Saturday morning the real fun began!! There were lots of games of corn hole, shuffleboard AND a brand new RVing Women sport – Pillow Jumping (imagine a huge trampoline)!! Those of us who participated in the pillow jumping laughed, cried, hugged and fell down A LOT (also while laughing)! I think all of us who were jumping felt energized and inspired by the act of jumping up and down like kids (without any injuries)!! Suddenly the rest of our RVing sisters stopped watching the shuffleboard games and turned their chairs around to watch us crazy folks who were jumping. Everyone took photos and videos and even the campground manager came out to announce that a large group of female adults jumping together was a FIRST!!!

One of my favorite traditions of rally weekends is the Blessing of the new RVs (Rigs). Each new owner gets a certificate commemorating the event and a toast wishing them well on their adventures. During this really cool event on Saturday, one of our sisters learned that she had lost a dear friend who was in hospice. The Blessing event came to a halt and we did a huge group hug. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that much support for a person in the midst a loss. After a few minutes we continued on…. while continuing to support our sister.

Throughout the weekend we learned that several other members also are facing life-changing health issues, and life circumstances – but there we all were, hugging and laughing, offering our support and even crying with our sisters. Sharing JOY while supporting each other’s pain. I felt as if I was on a resilience retreat, which in a sense we were given all of our cancellations and restrictions because of COVID over the last two years. We enjoyed hot dogs and dinners with friends, Bingo and other games while we just got reacquainted with all of our sisters. We even had visits from our sisters who aren’t able to participate in RVing right now but are still part of our family and we were thrilled to see and spend time with them!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t recount an issue that could have ended badly, but worked out to our extreme satisfaction. During my first full day at the campground, I noticed a Confederate flag flying from an RV parked right near the entrance to the campground. That flag was flying close to the campground flag and Maryland state flag which could have led some to believe that all of those flags were property of the campground. Seeing that flag was a problem for me. By the time many of our members noticed the Confederate flag there were five African-American RVing sisters present in the campground. When it was brought to the attention of the campground’s new manager, he immediately spoke to the camper flying the flag and without any complaint that camper removed that flag and replaced it with another. The entire issue was resolved in 15 minutes and our camping shenanigans carried on. I give the campground management, our chapter leadership and all of our members much credit for how they handled the issue with both a sense of calm and professionalism.

I was able to stay at the campground until this morning (Monday) and today I replayed the weekend over and over in my head. Having folks in my rig for coffee, wine and conversation, hanging out in my next door neighbor’s Airstream and getting to know her better, and just giving and receiving so much love that we were all missing since last November. Though some of us are really going through a lot right now – during the weekend we showed that we can jump for JOY right along with Holding each other up!! I hope everyone left feeling as Loved, Supported and Joyful as I did!

Be The Lifeline Someone Needs Today!

Sleep was not my friend last night but I didn’t really understand what the issue was until I got to the airport at 4:30am this morning. Mrs Adams, Mom’s lifelong friend is being buried today and because I’m in Chicago I’m not going to be there. I know she’d be ok that I’m not there because I’m in Chicago to chill, to write, to meet new friends and to visit a LEGO exhibit and I made all these arrangements before she died.…I’m also doing one presentation while I’m here which I hope will be uplifting for those who will be present!!! I give thanks for all the wisdom and joy Mrs Adams brought to my life as my 2nd Mom.

At 5:45 I was all set for a calm boarding experience after sitting in the AA airline lounge having a great cup of coffee but that’s not exactly how it played out. They announced that the flight was overbooked and asked for 2 volunteers to give up their seats. In attempt to help someone else given I had no immediate plans in Chicago I got in line to volunteer. As the gate attendants were attempting to rebook the first two volunteers a young woman who had clearly previously worked for American Airlines ran up to the gate in tears yelling that her dad was in the hospital in Chicago and she HAD TO BE on this flight!! They called her by name and tried to calm her down and shared that the flight was oversold and she’d have to wait til later this morning, but she screamed and cried louder and kept saying they HAD TO let her on!!

I could see that this was quickly escalating to a potential security issue so I slowly walked up behind her and whispered to her that I was also in line to give up my seat and if she waited a second while the agent waited on me she likely could get my seat. She literally cried louder and fell on the floor at my feet. Several people in the boarding line were also crying. I held her hand as she called someone to say she’d be on the flight….Turns out one couple didn’t show up so both me and the distraught young woman were able to get on the flight. It was so awesome to see other passengers of all ethnicities hug the woman as she and I became the last two people on the plane. Almost everyone said they were praying for her and her dad and hoped that she would get there “in time”. I hugged her before she slid into her seat.

These type of emotional situations really shake you up so though I was able to sleep for much of the flight I felt like I really needed “some church” when we landed! I went to the Chicago AA lounge to chill and write as it was rush hour and too early to check into the hotel. I got on the Facebook pages of two of my favorite mentors & preachers Paul Roberts Abernathy and Gayle Fisher-Stewart and watched a one-hour lecture Gayle gave on Wednesday and a 30 minute podcast Paul was interviewed on yesterday. By the time I had watched both of them I felt like I was ready for whatever else is going to happen today!! I talk about using your “lifelines” all the time in my presentations and I absolutely know who mine are and what I need from them. I didn’t even have to call or email Gayle or Paul I just listened to their voices! Does it get any better than that?

Earlier this week I spent time with Kris, also known as lifeline #1, and shared my sadness about a 28 year old young man I’d known since he was 6 who had taken his own life last weekend. Today I’m just praying for all the pain and hurt in our world AND giving thanks for all the people in our lives who can lift us up even when they don’t know they are doing it!

Sometimes all it takes it a small gesture or kind word to change the course of someone else’s day! May we all be that change today!

The Healing Power of a Waterfall and the Touch of a Hand!!

No matter where I go, at least one bag of LEGO bricks go along with me!! After years of facilitating LEGO Serious Play sessions I’d feel naked leaving home without some bricks and on this trip they even had some healing power!

For four days this week I had the absolute pleasure of being in fellowship with my spiritually-soulful sister Karen, her awesome husband Ted and their daughter Emilia who joined us for a few hours of fun! I don’t know many people who would open their heart and home to someone they’ve only met in person once but Karen and her family did! I originally met Karen through Paul Abernathy’s blog and we became friends through reading and commenting on his always thought-provoking posts. Then shortly before COVID I was scheduled to speak in Minneapolis where Karen lived. She offered to pick me up so we could have lunch and she even came to my presentation too!! What a JOYOUS day that was!

Because COVID caused a lot of trip cancellations I had an airline ticket I needed to use before it expired on March 30th. Well before Mom died on Jan 31st, Karen and I decided that it would be a fabulous time if I’d use that airline ticket to come to Minneapolis to be with she and her husband! I was so excited to accept her generous offer!

But as the time grew closer to the end of March and the two month anniversary of Mom’s death coming up, I was starting to feel Mom’s loss more deeply and I prayed I’d still be ok going on this trip. When Karen and I talked on the phone a few days before my departure about what activities we’d do during my visit, I mentioned I needed to take some “healing breaths” while we were together and her response made me instantly feel as if I was heading to the right place at the right time and for the right reason!

I don’t know how we packed so much into four days without feeling rushed or overwhelmed but we did. We went to George Floyd Square, Prince’s Paisley Park, a Shakespeare play and lingered over food and wine for hours at a time! We rode in the car looking at awesome sights and even walked in the bitter cold.

Approximately 20 minutes after they picked me up from the airport we were standing at Minnehaha Falls and the temperature was 19 degrees! But I didn’t really feel the cold because seeing and hearing the rush of the part of the flowing water that wasn’t frozen gave me life! It struck me that part of me had felt frozen since Mom’s death yet there I stood watching the rest of water flow freely from that waterfall as if Mom was holding my hand while allowing me to flow freely through the rest of my life without her! I was smiling so broadly I thought my face would freeze with that expression on it, and yet my tears flowed freely too!

I was laughing and crying at the same time and it felt so freeing! I don’t even think Karen and Ted noticed my tears because I was also so happy to be standing in front of that waterfall that I was doing my usual happy dance! At that moment I knew that no matter what happened during the rest of the trip, even in the freezing weather my grief began melting and pouring out!

On Monday evening I led Karen and Ted in a LEGO serious Play session and encouraged them to “think with their hands” like I do with all my participants. They built their joy and favorite memories of being married for 47 years. Earlier that day as we’d shared stories about our Moms Karen read me a poem she’d written about holding her Mom’s hand during her journey with dementia and how her Mom would rub her hand and arm in an act of love as they sat together. As we sat at the dining table and continued to explore the LEGO pieces even after our LSP session Karen picked up the big pink LEGO heart and 5 additional pieces and began attaching them! She then showed us what she’d put together and explained that it represented her Mom’s hand during their precious time together!

After hearing that poem earlier in the day and then seeing the resulting model that came into Karen’s spirit, I just about lost it!! The LEGO model was so profound and captured not only the essence of the poem she’d written about her Mom, but also captured for ME the last few days of time with my Mom as I held and rubbed her hand often so she’d know I was there and that I loved her! Because LEGO models are one of the ways I express my feelings just as Mom had, I instantly began snapping pics of what Karen had built because it was part of my story too!! I knew I had come to the right place, and had begun to process my grief more clearly from a model I hadn’t even built!

As I flew home tonight I knew I was in a different and better place! I don’t really know how to thank Karen, Ted and Emilia for helping me to take those healing breaths in a place far from home, but I’ll be forever grateful to them!! I know I’m starting on a healthy healing path now and shedding the tears I need to. I have always loved waterfalls but never thought that one would unlock and be the start of my grief process. My visit with Karen and her family reminded me that during this time my sisters from other mothers have my back! As Karen and I hugged goodbye at the airport we hugged as if we had climbed a mountain together, and maybe we had! Without me even asking, my other sister Kris held down the LEGO business piece for me while I was gone by buying and then picking up some DUPLO bricks for me that I’ll be using to lead more folks with dementia in my Amazing LEGO Serious Play sessions!! It’s such a Blessing when we allow others to help carry us – because they may just help lead us to the healing places we need to be! Amen to that!

10 Bonus Months!

10 Bonus Months

In 2021 on March 23rd Hospice advised you had 48 hours to live.                                               But they should have known Ms. Doris had so much more to give.

For 10 Bonus months you showed us the way.                                                                                  You gave us love and joy every single day!

Each day you said “Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” thousands of times.                                                Whenever we asked how you were, you said you were just fine.

We sang, laughed and played with lots of LEGO bricks.                                                                   To “go home” you tried escaping from bed with different leg tricks.

Your will to live earned you a Wonder Woman blanket for your Mother’s Day gift.              Being filmed for the Thriver Thursday series gave us a huge emotional lift.

We were able to get you outside several times last summer.                                                                 But the day you missed your first Lifesprings field trip was truly a bummer.

You declined in the fall and needed pureed food.                                                                                  Yet nothing ever seemed to dampen your mood.

You said Thank you and Good Morning with such much joy.                                                            We kept your mind occupied with magazines and fidget toys.

For Christmas I gave you Wonder Woman socks to warm your feet.                                                      You loved them and smiled as if they were a great treat.

We knew time was getting short at the beginning of the New Year.                                               You slept a lot but didn’t seem to have any fear!

For 10 bonus months many more memories were made.                                                             But on the last day of January your soul began to fade.

Your feet were really cold so we put on your Wonder Woman socks.                                                      You took your last breath at 3:27pm according to my clock.

I’m so grateful for the 10 bonus months God gave us with you.                                                            I will carry your legacy on knowing that in heaven your brain is once again brand new!

Traveling the World Without Leaving Home!

Today marks one week since my Wonder Woman Mom Doris took her last breath. Much of the week I’ve spent reading through the incredible messages people have posted on social media in response to Mom’s death. I have never met most of the people who provided comments and messages and will likely never meet them in person. YET we’ve formed a close bond through the love of my Mom and LEGO bricks.

Mom’s favorite subject in school was geography and she declared as a young girl that she would be traveling outside of her birthplace of Washington, D.C. to see the world. Unfortunately, life happened and there wasn’t time or money to travel as Mom raised my sister and I as a single mom.

When I became a working adult and began traveling Mom traveled vicariously through me and my husband Tim. I always purchased souvenir photo books from everywhere we went so that she’d have both the photos and the history of each place we visited. She read every book and brochure over and over to continue to experience the world from her comfy chair. I had no idea then that Mom would eventually travel the world in her own way.

When she was diagnosed with dementia I began speaking and sharing my Mom and our lives with family and professional caregivers around the country. I shared hundreds of photos of me and Mom that showed not only the progression of the disease, but also the joy that you could take from it too. People marveled over Mom’s facial expressions when we were playing with the LEGO bricks and the joy on the faces of caregiving participants in my LEGO Serious Play sessions. When COVID arrived and it became necessary to reach people virtually, I enhanced my LEGO Serious Play facilitation in 2020 by receiving training as a virtual facilitator of the method from the amazing Sean Blair, Founder of SERIOUSWORK!

Suddenly my social media posts of Mom building with LEGO bricks were being read by lots of other senior living professionals and LEGO Serious Play facilitators around the world. But I had no idea how impactful my posts with Mom had become until she died. So far I received messages from people from 16 countries including Qatar, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, South Africa, Singapore, The Netherlands, England, India, Nigeria, Poland and our neighbor Canada. The comments about us and our work have been incredible! Here are just a few…

“You and your Mom inspired me in countless ways and I began using LEGO bricks with my family too”.

“Your bond with your Mum was extraordinary and I will miss seeing her priceless facial expressions.”

“It has been an honor to watch your caregiving journey together. You both radiate wonderful energy and light.”

“The way you shared her journey and the details of her life and your visits was a remarkable testament to the beautiful bond between you both.”

“Your passion for LEGO Serious Play is outstanding and your work is inspiring for everyone all over the world”

I’m going to save all of the messages that have been posted because they are some of the most uplifting messages I’ve ever received and I know I will need to re-read them on the tough days when I’m missing my Mom. One of the things I’m most proud of is the fact that people around the world were able to see who my Mom was in spite of her dementia. They saw her spirit and her faith and her incredible kindness!

I couldn’t have asked for a better Mom, and even though I wish that she had done the traveling she wanted to do, through her dementia she was able to share her journey and her spirit in a way that would never have been possible if she had simply been a tourist. The photos I took of me and Mom aren’t of landmarks from different cities, but are of us on a real-life journey that have become part of our legacy! From Mom’s armchair, wheelchair and bed we showed the world that even though dementia is a horrible disease we don’t have to let it steal our joy! Rest well my Wonder Woman!! I’m so proud of your fight, your wit and your unwavering faith – and I’ll carry our legacy on from here! Love you forever!

Bruised, But Not Broken!

I went to bed late on the night of January 16th because I was having so much fun making final preparations for the full week ahead of presentations and LEGO events. Unfortunately, I wasn’t actually IN the bed for very long! I had been very worried about Mom’s decline since I had last seen her on December 30th before the second group home lockdown caused by the pandemic. That worry turned into a very bad dream on the night of the 16th. I dreamed that my Wonder Woman Mom was dying and I was trying to get to the group home a few miles from me before she died. In my dream I was running and my neighbors were running after me to determine what was wrong. The next thing I knew I was on the floor of my bedroom along with almost everything that had been on my nightstand. I had actually fallen out of my bed for the first time in my entire life. I tried to blame it on someone else being in the room with me and pushing me out of the bed, but there was no burglar or anyone else in the room BUT ME! I immediately felt intense pain in my left side and even in the dark I could see and feel that I was laying on top of my air purifier. I was relieved that I wasn’t bleeding but the pain scared me. Trying not to panic I grabbed my headphones and quickly turned on the spa station to calm myself down before even trying to get up. It was 1:30am so I definitely didn’t want to call anyone if I didn’t need to. I could breathe, though a deep breath hurt like crazy but I was pretty sure my ribs weren’t broken. I listened to a few songs before getting up and deciding what to do next. I got back in bed and slept off and on for a couple of hours before finally getting up.

Later that morning on January 17th I got a call from the group home confirming what I was already worried about and had resulted in my bad dream. Mom was declining and having greater difficulty swallowing even the Ensure that she loves. That same afternoon because I was still in a lot of pain from my fall I went to Patient First to confirm what I suspected, that my ribs were bruised but not broken. Even now, more than a week later I’m still in a lot of pain from the ribs every day, but at least I can sleep thanks to my adjustable Sleep Number Bed! The last week has been a blur with my presentations and LEGO events, phone calls with Mom’s caregiver Janet and my visits with Mom, which are an absolute BLESSING! One of the most difficult parts of this week was being in the room on Monday while the hospice nurse examined Mom. We are keeping her comfy and ensuring that she’s not in any pain. That said, there is still so much JOY in Wonder Woman… I still get the “HELLO” when I come in, and the “Bye Bye” when I leave. I fill her room with laughter and Joy while I’m there and Janet is giving Mom all of the love and attention she needs when I’m not there! The most amazing part of all this for me is that even though she’s getting much weaker and can no longer pull her LEGO bricks apart or put them together, she can still wrap her fingers around them and push them around her blanket, and she even smiles while doing it.

We all know how this will end, but as I look back on the amazing journey during this 16 years since her dementia diagnosis, there are so many incredible moments of joy that I will NEVER forget. I’m writing this post because so many of you have been on this journey with us and have inspired us with your comments, love and support. When that day comes when my Wonder Woman Mom is no longer with us, because of all the lessons I’ve learned from her about “carrying on no matter what” I will be very bruised but not broken. I know you all will be right there with me! Much love to you all and to my Wonder Woman!

When the Joy is Hard to Find!

After a 2021 filled with many pivots caused by COVID I was so looking forward to 2022… until it actually came!! I know how hard the holidays can be for some people so thanks to my awesome friend Gayle Fisher Stewart I facilitated a Blue Christmas event using LEGO Serious Play at an Episcopal Church in D.C. We built hopeful strategies to help with grief with sadness during the holidays. With Omicron just starting to spread rapidly we had a small but very committed and interactive group and had an incredible time of learning and sharing. It’s an event I’d love to do each year!

Spending Christmas morning with the kids and the afternoon with Mom was great!! I am so amazed that Mom is still here, so I gave her more Wonder Woman gifts in celebration, a stocking, coffee mug and socks! She was really alert on Christmas day and I made the most of every moment we were together!

Then I headed out to see several Holiday light shows in DC, MD and VA and all of them were simply spectacular!! All of that was a fabulous way to wind down a really crazy year! I was also dreading December 29th which was the last day I was going to be able to see Mom due to another lockdown of her facility due to Omicron.

It was right before Christmas that the deaths started, with four current and former pillars from my church leaving us between Dec 20 and New Years Eve. Each one of them hit me hard, especially the one on New Years Eve which was just shocking. Then on Jan 2nd a very sweet friend I met through RVing Women died and because I had thought she was recovering from her illness I was so distraught reading of her death that I fell off my treadmill. Thankfully I wasn’t hurt but learned the valuable lesson of not reading Facebook while on the treadmill. Mix into all that the deaths of Desmond Tutu, Betty White and most recently Sidney Poitier and it had just become too much!

January 3rd was my birthday but I knew my planned birthday dinner wasn’t going to occur due to the snow forecast for that day and we ended up getting 11 inches where I live. The entire day was a blur though as the most devastating death of one of my extended family members occurred on that day, though we learned the death was imminent the day before. I spent most of that day in tears and wasn’t really sure how to move forward. Using my snow blower for the first time ever to rid my walkway, sidewalk and driveway of the heavy and icy snow was restorative for me and showed me how to blaze a new path through a heavy obstacle.

It took a couple of hours to get all the snow removed and my tenant even pitched in quite a bit. I felt very accomplished after it was all done and cried about that too! I ended up having peanut butter and jelly for dinner as I couldn’t muster the energy to fix anything else.

All of the birthday dinners and lunches I had scheduled for the week were postponed or held on Zoom due to the original snowstorm and another on Friday. It was just as well and I wasn’t really up to celebrating… BUT as I was finishing up some new additions to my Refreshment for the Caregiver’s Spirit presentation I’m giving this week for Insight Memory Care Center’s Monthly Care Partner Training I looked inside my JOY box, a place I put cards and other memorabilia to lift me up on tough days! After reading or holding a few of the items in the box, right away I began to feel lighter, and I smiled that authentic Loretta smile for the first time in days. I even added a photo of the virtual visit I had with Mom yesterday to the JOY box to look at on the days I am sad because I can’t be with her in person! I’m thankful I opened my JOY Box – it’s such a beautiful and restorative place to go when the JOY is hard to find! I’m grateful for all of my friends and family wish us all many JOYFUL days in 2022!