You are amazing. Kind supporters (like you!) who believe in enriching the quality and dignity of life for older adults have given more than $80,000 to the Strengthening Our Foundation campaign to support Chaplain Services. Together, we are 41% of the way to our campaign goal of $200,000.

Your gift will make it possible for CLC chaplains to provide compassionate, loving care to even more residents, families, and team members. Chaplains like Cheryl Meakins, who works in the skilled nursing Suites at Clermont Park and Holly Creek. Chaplain Cheryl wrote the following moving story about an encounter she had with a resident living with memory loss that sparked the idea for a special way to provide him with comfort and care.

An Arm Around My Shoulders

By Chaplain Cheryl Meakins

Ian McKellan, the famous actor who played Gandalf in the first of the Lord of the Rings movies shared a painful moment in making the movie. Ian had long been a successful actor and knew well how to trust his talent and skill in emulating a character when in relationship with other actors. But when he arrived on set for An Unexpected Journey, he found himself seated in a green-screen room, trying to become Gandalf, without anyone else by his side. Ian was trying to interact with characters who were not there. He was isolated and alone. One of the crew described this experience as being similar to sensory deprivation. After just a few days the crew noticed that Ian was deeply struggling, as if he was depressed.

Although the director of the film was quite happy with the results of Ian’s acting, he sensed that Ian needed more than his words of encouragement. The whole crew came alive that night, re-decorating Ian’s private resting area. The crew added elvish, dwarf-ish, and hobbit-sy elements from the film to create a home within Ian’s tent. They then brought in a few simple pleasures for him. Ian was a fan of 1970’s music and the crew did not disappoint. Albums were bought, a retro record player and lounge chair were added, and the surprise was complete.

Ian arrived the next morning, welcomed to a personal retreat that blended the old with the new. When Ian commented on this gift, in his British lilt, he said, “It’s not so much a pat on the back, as it is an arm around my shoulders.”

The Eden Alternative way of caring for others is like that, an arm around someone’s shoulders. Don’t get me wrong, pats on the back are good, encouraging, and also needed, but an arm around the shoulders is much deeper, it is solidarity with someone’s heart.

As a chaplain, I consider this the most joyful and challenging work with residents and care team alike, to notice when a pat on the back would be insufficient, maybe even offensive, because what is needed is an arm around someone’s shoulders.

One of our residents had come early to chapel a few weeks ago. I sat down beside him, noticing his contemplative and forlorn countenance. I gently asked, “Brian, how is today going for you?” He grunted, paused, and said, “I was looking through my pictures this morning and realized I have forgotten what my wife looked like. I didn’t know who she was in the pictures.” I caught my breath as I saw tears welling up in his eyes, “Oh Brian!” and my eyes began to imitate his, leaking a bit of the sorrow we held in that moment. I reached out to hold his hand and he grabbed mine in response. “I’m so sorry.”

There were no words for that moment. Sometimes life introduces unexpected journeys of grief. But the holding of hands, the sharing of tears, and the bravery of silence in sorrow is the way I put an arm around his shoulders.

Sensing when any of us move from the pats on the back to the arm around the shoulders is the art of being a chaplain and it is the building block of our communities and their commitment to The Eden Alternative philosophy.

While I was an arm around Brian’s shoulders in that moment, I realized there was something more the care team could provide to continue this sense of solidarity in the sorrow of memory loss.

Memory books have been a part of support for those losing their memories for many decades. A memory book is an album of photos with words that identify the milestone people, places, and events of a person’s life.

I turned to our life enrichment team and began to dream how we can offer a memory album to our residents, so loss of memory is supported through comforting stories of their past. An arm around the shoulders is a deeply spiritual moment, and it is also intentional programming in response to spoken needs. This is the birthplace of being deeply known, welcomed in all the messiness of life, and accompanied on difficult journeys. This is how an Eden garden grows.


About the Author

Reverend Cheryl Meakins

Reverend Cheryl Meakins serves as Chaplain at the skilled nursing Suites at Clermont Park and Suites at Holly Creek. She is the mom to three young adults, wife to Mark for 25 years, and a theologian who practices contemplative prayer. Cheryl is also a dog and cat mom, board game enthusiast, former Occupational Therapist, and pickle ball novice.

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