Sharing Stories, Sharing Meals & Sharing Art

Elder Care Alliance and the Northern California Chapter of the American Art Therapy Association co-hosted an open studio this past weekend. It was wonderful to share an art space with those working in and around the creative art therapy field. Among our participants were several art therapists, an art student from California College of the Arts, and several people interested in the field.

Prior to the art-making, art therapists were invited to share a meal with the elders at Mercy Retirement & Care Center. As one elder talked about her life experiences she repeatedly referenced the ways art, activism, and public speaking help her. As a survivor of the Japanese Internment camps, she was carrying a great deal of anger; she said that opportunities to speak to young people about her experiences enable her to find new peace with her life story: “My siblings never had that. They never found the peace I have.” She described how important it was to see her drawings of the camps up on the walls outside her room, a different way to ‘speak’ about her experience. She squeezed her husband’s hand while describing how they went door-to-door fundraising for political action and in support of farm workers in the 1960s. He looked up from his ice cream and smiled across the table. After she spoke, she apologized for taking up so much time. Without hesitation, the young adults at the table expressed gratitude for her openness and for sharing her stories.

We need more of these opportunities. Spaces where elders can share stories–verbal or visual–and be heard. We need to share meals and smiles and hand-squeezes.

I love being able to facilitate experiences like this lunch. I feel honored to be part of intergenerational experiences; hearing the elders redefine their lives on their own terms and celebrating their pursuits–this is transformational work! Something as simple as a lunch invitation yields connection, empowerment, and inspiration.

Back to that smile…though memory loss impacted his ability to speak his part of the story aloud, his smile told us all we needed to know in that moment. He heard himself in the story and he was proud.

by Erin Partridge, PhD ATR-BC
Experiential Researcher in Residence at Elder Care Alliance; Part-time Faculty at Notre Dame de Namur University