How To Be A Spiritual Caregiver

Below are suggestions from Pam Giffin-Brees who is a Non-Denominational Spiritual Caregiver with the Chaplain's Office at Kaiser-Permanente Hospital in Fremont, CA. (She is "non-denominational" meaning that she can visit all patients.) She "White Gloved" the exhibit when it was in Santa Clara, California in October.

Pam says:
Helping as a spiritual caregiver is more "being" than "doing." You want to be empathetic and really listen to what people tell you. Your body language will help people open up to you. Don't stand with your arms folded across your chest. Lean forward slightly when you engage in conversation. Maintain eye contact. Smile. Introduce yourself ("Hi, I'm [first name]. I'm with the Alzheimer's quilts.")

Ask an open-ended question, like: "Which quilt affected you the most?" or "Which quilt were you drawn to?" Sometimes all you have to say is, "You must have a connection…"

It won't be difficult to get people to open up. Quilters love to talk about quilts, especially quilts with significance. You probably won't get many comments about technique, except as it might relate to the metaphor of the story behind the quilt.

Many people will not be able to read the artist statements. They are too emotional. If you are near quilts # 4, #11, #13, #16, #29, (especially #29) #22, or #51, you may want to read the story yourself and if you find it moving, share a little bit about it with whomever might be looking at it.

Many people will cry. Offer them a tissue. It's OK if you gently touch them on the arm; sometimes you need that human touch to make the connection. There is a tremendous need for people who know a loved one with Alzheimer's to share what happened with THEIR relative. This is very common with all types of traumatic life altering events, and it is true that it is an unburdening which is good for the soul. It's OK if you cry too.

Remember, we all live very rushed lives, and things like this make us slow down and look at some pleasant (and unpleasant) things up close. Our minds tend to jump to the "next thing" without conscious choice, but sharing these quilts means you have to stay in the moment with the person you are speaking with so you can understand and be there for them — and for yourself.

You may get a hug after your conversation. People have differing views and tolerances about touching and hugging. You'll have to play this according to how you feel and how you perceive the other person might feel.

Know that just being "available" is very important. Nobody expects you to have all the answers, about the quilts, or about Alzheimer's. We're all helping each other through this, one quilt at a time.

Thank you for volunteering,
Ami Simms