Down Memory Lane
It would take him all day to get there, but Richard found a sense of “freedom” in venturing to the Dollar Store downtown via his electric wheelchair. With a frustrated tone he said, “There’s nothing worse than going 2 MPH down Main Street in the rain. Can’t hold an umbrella because I have to drive. Can’t get my wheelchair wet either.” Richard was growing depressed now that the cooler, shorter days have arrived.
He then hung his head and I heard him start sniffling. His teary voice cracked, “Sorry I’m being so emotional, I just feel stuck inside, I have nobody.” He had been living at a nursing home for about six weeks now, not by choice.
I sparked a conversation about the only photo he had on his wall. Here he is seventeen years old and in middle of boot camp for the USAF. With a little coaching, stories of Richard’s life started joyfully pouring out of him. Richard’s middle name is Harley (his father owned a Harley Davidson shop.) In 1933, his father needed a change of scenery, so he attached a trailer with all their essential belongings to the back of his Harley and tucked a six-month-old Richard and his mother into a sidecar. They rode non-stop from Klamath Falls Oregon to San Jose California.
Richard then reveled in his accomplishments as a lead machinist for a B-36 (the largest aircraft in the world at that time.) He laughed as he told me stories of being a professional motorcycle racer, a proud and indispensable auto mechanic at the VA, and how he somehow wound up being a sewing machine repairman.
Going down memory lane has a few clinical labels, like “life review” or “reminiscence therapy.” Encouraging the telling of stories can help in developing a therapeutic relationship with patients. Storytelling builds connection and trust. People also can find meaning to their lives through hearing their own stories, which can remind them of their accomplishments, helping them feel good about their lives. It was a very uplifting hour for Richard, we took this photo just before I left his room.