Even after sharing the story several times, it continues to surprise and delight me how a difficult film about family relationships in the context of aging, death and dementia can reliably spawn such meaningful conversation about life.
Earlier this month I connected with my cousin, Rozalind, over the story "Berry Picking on Golden Pond." It's a powerful scene from a powerful picture and there's plenty to talk about. We were able to react to the story as it played, stopping the playback on several occasions to react to it, to talk about it. And when it was done, we easily talked for an hour about the things we observed in the story, how it made us feel, and what we remembered or associated with the film from 1981. (Excerpts from the conversation have been edited into the video below so you can see for yourself).
But then, as we were wrapping up the call and reflecting on the Meema Experience itself, Roz volunteered something more: she made the connection between what she and I were talking about just then and how Meema Stories might have helped her years before, when she was caring for her own brother, Anthony. And it changed the way I see Meema Stories myself.
Anthony died in 2013 after a long illness. Roz was there for him for years. She explained how it made her "feel bad" that she didn't have Meema then and she "only wished she had it" to engage her brother over the many months and years she cared for him. She wondered, "how much richer the last couple of years ... could have been."
Wow. Pretty intense. At the moment in that conversation, what I experienced was sadness, loss, empathy. I recalled visiting Roz with her brother in Florida. I remembered. And I too experienced regret.
"I know," I said. I did understand what she meant. But that was as far as it went.
Later however, I realized something else about this experience: it had changed my perspective on Meema itself. After I ended the Zoom session -- perhaps while I was editing the video below -- I continued to reflect on what we had talked about together. From the very beginning of Meema, I had considered Meema Stories and the conversation they inspire to be valuable and meaningful to me personally. Gradually, I started to see how they might be used by and essential to caregiver-companions as well. But then, while I was editing this video, and all of a sudden, I became certain that using Meema Stories could be more than valuable, important or even essential: it could also be URGENT.
Because of what Roz said on our call, I made a connection with a conversation I'd had a few days earlier with another would-be collaborator. "Why is using Meema Stories urgent?" she asked me.
At the time, I was not sure.
Now I know.
It's pretty basic. Relationships are dynamic, transitory, impermanent. But what can we actually DO about that? I'm pretty sure the only answer is this: to engage. Meema Stories are tools anyone can use with anyone they care for, to explore those impermanent, transitory and dynamic relationships, to help them develop, and to appreciate them while we have them. What Roz helped me see is a Meema "call to action."
If you are caring for an elder -- a client, as resident, a parent or a spouse -- try Meema Stories right now. Do it. If you are loving someone remotely and they are still OK, still independent, don't wait for them to need your caring. Care for them now. It might be awkward or uncomfortable at the beginning. But you'll get better at it. So will your companion. And when you find a story that resonates with both of you, you'll know what I mean.
And I also relearned something else that I had known from my experience at The Right Question Institute, but recently forgotten: sometimes, the most meaningful part of an engagement process is the reflection at the end. You might be tempted to skip this last step after interacting with the story and engaging with each other. But don't. It's not only about correcting errors, improving or even optimizing your practice for the future (although that is also a benefit of reflection). The principal purpose of reflection is learning itself: to name what it is you take away from the process. By giving it a name, you appreciate it more; it deepens and reinforces the lesson, whatever that might be.
Realizing Meema Stories might have helped her with her brother, Roz experienced regret. But she also appreciated what she was doing with me and how she was helping me with Meema Stories. Meanwhile, as I say in the video below, "I was reminded why we were building Meema Stories in the first place." I appreciated the conversation with Roz even more. I experienced the urgency of the practice. And I reaffirmed the importance of reflection in the process.
You'll appreciate the video.