– Maureen Matthews, RN, PhD, Founder of To Whom I May Concern®
People of a certain age might remember the weekly sitcom Cheers, about a Boston watering hole where the ‘regulars’ showed up for some beer and companionship. The bartender welcomed everyone and brought together the conversation from one end of the bar to the other. There was always a mix of drama and humor in the stories they shared. The show’s theme song captured the heart of Cheers…it was a place where “everybody knows your name.”
Over the years of facilitating a support group for men and women diagnosed with a dementia in the early stage, I’ve come to understand that Cheers captures my experience. Just replace the beer with coffee and you get a picture of what a weekly welcoming space looks like. I see it in the faces of the people as they come through the door. Each one looks around not just for a chair but more importantly for familiar faces that “know my name.”
“Knowing” is different from remembering; the occasional use of name tags helps with the memory issues present in the room. “Knowing” goes deeper, to friendships with people who understand what changes in cognitive abilities mean in a world that values people by their brain health. “Knowing” means group members can exhale and relax because now they are in a safe space where they can share the stories that will make the group laugh out loud with no pity in their eyes. And if it takes a while for someone to find the words to tell their story, no problem. No one is in a hurry.
If you’re fortunate enough to be the bartender (Facilitator) at this bar (meeting room), creating this safe space that allows for deep knowing, you get to meet some incredible people who are living each day with courage and humor. Listen to the stories. They are guaranteed to be intoxicating and you will be changed!