By Sandy Atlin.
When my husband Gordon and I joined Holy Blossom over 35 years ago, we felt we had come home. We were welcomed and went on to learn with and serve the Congregation in whatever ways we could, participating on many committees and in Gordon’s case being, twice, Board vice–president.
Eight years ago, Gordon was diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment. We were told that in most people this was a precursor to Alzheimer’s, but I simply didn’t believe that. I thought it might happen to others, but not to us.
Unfortunately, I thought wrong.
We continued to work in and support Temple activities while Gord’s condition was relatively stable, but as he slowly went downhill in the last few years, our activities have had to change to fit his abilities and my time available after caregiving duties.
I began to feel somewhat isolated from Jewish connection and Temple. Eventually I wrote to our Rabbi suggesting Holy Blossom develop something which would keep all members, according to their needs and capacities, in the loop of study and belonging. The Rabbi took up the challenge and we brought together a group of interested people to look at ways of inclusion for caregivers and their loved ones.
I had sought aid in the recent past from a number of community programs, so invited the Director of one such which I found helpful to advise our Temple interest group about how we might give care, solace and practical help to those living with dementia. This led to an offer from Mt. Sinai’s Reitman Centre Carers program to train Temple volunteers in how to help this population in our own sacred space.
Many wonderful volunteers, including Gerri Richman and others, came forward as leaders and were trained to present an in- house program, Living with Dementia, which is now part of the Temple’s community services, and with Mount Sinai’s Reitman Centre. In the program, a spouse, child or sibling learns by the concrete methods of problem-solving and role-playing, to cope better in handling the challenge of living with dementia. It nurtures loved ones in a uniquely developed structure, a strong creative piece for care recipients which encourages them to see, discuss, reminisce and produce items of interest with the guidance of Registered Art Therapist Esther Zeller Cooper.
With appreciation, I have seen two groups of caregivers and their loved ones take part in Temple’s Living with Dementia program through the Spring and Fall 2012 offerings, 2 1/2 hours a week for 10 weeks each. We have been fortunate to have the support of our Rabbis, Cantors and soloists who provide us with a Judaica half-hour of prayer, song and story as we all come together at the end of the sessions to share our common Jewish memories and strengths. We have a small operating budget with financial support from the Al & Dora Track Fund and great support from Temple staff.
I am grateful that now Holy Blossom can continue to be a spiritual home for Gordon and me. As he sings the songs and says the prayers in the age-old ways, I know how comfortable and included he feels and am thankful to the good people who have made my dream of belonging forever a reality. At the same time the Jewish community of Toronto is learning that if people need support for living with dementia, Holy Blossom is among the places where they are welcome to come.
In the spirit of tikkun olam I am proud to know a personal plea has been answered by our Temple creating a service in aid of all.
If you or someone you know needs help in living with dementia, contact [email protected].