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Bark Marks

Written by : Teri Skoog

“…He cannot see the forest for the trees." ~Sir Thomas More

SKOOG – Swedish, dweller in or near the forest.

I have dwelled in a forest a time or two, both literally and metaphorically. Some I sought out and entered with intention and great enthusiasm. Others I seemed to stumble upon, uncertain by how I arrived. There have been moments when I’ve found myself lost on the path or lost sight of the forest because I was leaning too heavy and long on a particular spot, becoming fixed with indecision of what direction to take next.

Parenting was a path I was eager to experience. With hope and anticipation, I entered the forest of motherhood with great excitement. My mom was one of my biggest cheerleaders during these years. She was crazy in love with my daughters, and they were crazy about her. I welcomed her help, especially when I found myself in the middle of challenging situations. Recognizing my tendency to focus intently on my difficulties, my mom told me: “Teri, you’re so close to the problem, you have bark marks on your forehead.” She advised me to take a step back, wipe the worry from my brow, sit quietly with the question, and look for a path through it.

She gave me more than just advice though; she walked with me. Taking my hand, my mom helped me find my foothold on the journey of parenting based on her experience and wisdom. And what an example she was on how to navigate challenging terrain.

Only a few years into my parenting experience, my mom and I found ourselves at the edge of another forest. She started to show changes with her health, memory, attention, and judgment. We sat together and quietly watched, listened, and came to an understanding the path ahead was that of Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia. This was not an unknown forest to me. I had contributed to the field of eldercare for over a decade by this time and was familiar with the weight of those words. But this journey was going to be different. This journey was personal. Mom and I struggled with our focus and found ways to separate ourselves from the reality of it all. It was painful to look ahead to where the path was leading. We were beginning to get bark marks on our forehead. Eventually, we took a step back, wiped the mark of worry from our brows, and looked for the path through it.

It was my mom’s turn to trust my knowledge and experience. I took her hand and together we found our foothold on the journey of a respectful and dignified partnership in care.

I’d like to say it was a smooth journey but that would be disingenuous. There were bumps, bruises, and wrong turns. We learned however that a journey into a forest can be frightening, or it can be beautiful depending on the tools available and choice of companions. My mom and I persisted on our way down the path of dementia one step at a time, and we uncovered beautiful moments of companionship, joy, and possibilities. Dementia does not have to be a dark and suffering experience. With the right tools and walking partner, it can be filled with hope and opportunities.

As a DAWN Dementia Care Specialist, I bring a unique perspective and understanding to support people as they navigate their path. I recognize the heavy focus on worry and the bark marks on the foreheads of others who may be afraid to look ahead. My intent is to encourage individuals experiencing dementia and their care partners to take a step back, wipe the mark of worry from their brow, sit quietly with the question, and look for a path through it. Together, we can find moments of beauty, hope and possibilities.

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