This is Dana Rubin-Winkelman, the social worker. I hope you and your family are well. I am thinking of you and sending my positive thoughts and prayers. We are missing everyone, and hope to bridge the distance through this electronic connection.
In our home, Friday is a distinctive day. In the afternoons, the aroma of homemade cinnamon-sugar challah (braided egg bread) wafts through our house as I start to prepare for Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner. A table is set with Shabbat candle sticks, challah, and kiddush cups for wine. And, around 6:00PM you can expect to hear our family sing “Shalom Aleichem,” a song about the angels that accompany us on Shabbat. Our children expect these Jewish rituals as we gather together and eat a special Shabbat meal.
I have come to realize that these familiar traditions and the love behind these Jewish rituals, help ground us to each other and connect us to our community and heritage. I pray that these rituals have also helped our family through this strange time. Our children know that Friday night Shabbat dinner always happens; it is a constant in our lives. So, despite all the unknowns and fear, Shabbat is, and always will be, a sacred, safe space that reinforces our beliefs and our connection. In this spirit, this week’s “Touch Points” is dedicated to the importance of rituals and traditions.
As always, I am also thinking about those families caring for someone with memory loss. Traditions and rituals can be quite important to those with cognitive loss; they serve as a warm connection to the past and a shared memory. I have peppered comments throughout the email.
RITUALS AND TRADITIONS: HOW DO THEY HELP?
- Traditions help us find meaning- Traditions and rituals help us through milestones in our lives, and through difficult times. They can reinforce our values and identity, and help us find meaning. During a difficult time like Covid-19, it is important to find aspects of life that ‘ground’ us. Above, I described our weekly Friday rituals. For me, these traditions elevate a meal into something sacred. Do you have weekly rituals or traditions that elevate the ordinary? Try to incorporate them into your week.
- Ritualistic acts make the day uncomplicated– We all have small things that are daily rituals. These, sometimes, mindless events help us get through our day. So, during a time when we are at home most of the day, these everyday rituals can provide a kind of clock; they help orient us to our usual routine. For example, perhaps morning is the time to shower, or to make a cup of coffee. Rituals and schedules can also be helpful for someone with memory loss, and may help him/her feel a sense of comfort and control. A routine can also help the individual retain his/her independence longer. In addition, for the caregiver, a routine can help plan the day, so you can spend more time enjoying the activity, rather than figuring out what to do.
- Traditions and rituals help us cope – In times of uncertainty or stress it is nice to fall back on a ritual that is known and predictable. The stability can bring a sense of comfort and help us cope with stress. Rituals might be a special meal together, a weekly Zoom call with family or friends, or a walk. I encourage you to continue whatever ritual you have created, or modify it so it will work today. The connection will reinforce the values that matter.
- Traditions and rituals provide a connection to our past– There is something beautiful and sacred about performing the same traditions that our ancestors have done for centuries, and knowing that all around the world, people are also carrying out the same traditions. I am filled with wonder and a sense of holiness when I consider this connection, as I light Shabbat candles on Friday night. Do you have a tradition in your religion or in your family that connects you to your ancestors? Do you have a ritual object that your parent or grandparent used? For someone with memory loss, handling objects can evoke special conversations and spark warm memories.
- Tradition provides an opportunity to express ourselves and share– Sometimes traditions provide an opportunity to slow down your pace, and spend time reconnecting. Try a dinnertime ritual of asking each person, “What is one good thing that happened to you today?”
- Try a brain health exercise about tradition– Use a family tradition and write about it! Use all the senses, five action words and five emotions.
- Check out The Jewish Museum Milwaukee’s-“Museum Moment” Education Director, Ellie Gettinger, explores a Jewish tradition that shifted and changed in the United States. Milwaukee-native, Dr. Annie Polland discusses the creation and evolution of the Bat Mitzvah. After you listen, think about what traditions have evolved over time. Click here to watch: https://youtu.be/g4PUh0EmVss
I would love to hear how you are doing, what rituals you find comforting, and what you find challenging. For those caregivers, as you know, sometimes things that work one day, don’t work well the next. So, if not a good day today, then give it a try another time. Again, love to hear from you! Email me here: DRubin-Winkelman@ovation.org
Thinking of you and sending all my positive energy and love,