April 13, 2004
A good sign, friends finally connect
From: Casa Grande Valley Newspapers, AZ - Apr 13, 2004
Bard Lindeman, Tribune Media Services
April 13, 2004
To see the two women, sitting close, smiling, sometimes holding hands, is to know this friendship is special. People call it a union of like spirits, and take pleasure being witnesses to their obvious sharing.
"Theirs is a friendship that runs deep into the soul," says P.K. Beville, Ph.D., a psychologist privileged to spend time with the women of age.
Home for the pair in question is an Assisted Living community in suburban Atlanta. Ga. Here, in the building's aviary, partners we'll call Eunice and Mona routinely sit together, often with few words exchanged. The songs of the birds predominate.
Understand, please, that Mona is deaf and doesn't speak. Moreover, although she knows a few signs, she's never learned sign language. Eunice, in a wheelchair much of the time, speaks but doesn't know how to sign. Just being side-by-side, gesturing, exchanging written notes, and touching: this was life enough for the women.
Enter, now, those nonprofit revelers known as Second Wind Dreams. Founded eight years ago by Dr. Beville, the group succeeds in delivering fun, excitement and meaningful moments to often-lonely, melancholy residents of long-term care outposts. With the tenacity of a horde of pit bulldogs, Paula Kay ("Call me PK") Beville has kept this dreamboat of an organization afloat.
"We're doing three dreams a day, on average," she says, adding quickly, "nearly half have to do with fun. People just can't understand that men and women in nursing homes still like to have fun."
Asked what special dream they held onto, Eunice and Mona never hesitated: "Could we please learn sign language?" No trips to Palm Beach, or a guest shot on "Doctor Phil" for this pair.
"We have so much to talk about," Eunice added, leaving unspoken the frustration the two communicators felt as a result of their handicaps.
A luncheon was arranged at Sunrise Assisted Living of Marietta, Ga., and, in honor of the celebrants, a bird motif dominated. Nearly 200 women made up the audience, yet all talking stopped when the reluctant performers commanded center stage.
Remembering the moment, Dr. Beville says, "Mona clung to Eunice as a drowning woman holds to a piece of driftwood. She only looked down, at the floor. Eunice, meanwhile, nearly bounced out of her wheelchair when she answered what she intended to say to her friend:
"'I want to tell her how much I love her, how much she means to me,'" she said. Mona, unhearing, continued staring at the floor. "In that instant, it became apparent," Dr. Beville continued, "how difficult communication is for these friends."
Next, a teacher of sign language stepped from the audience and began to automatically, and professionally, sign for the women. "Mona perked right up," said Dr. Beville. Once again, Eunice was asked for her message. Turning to face Mona so she could lip read her message, Eunice said slowly, pausing after each word, "I love you...my precious friend."
In the audience, there were sighs. Women reached for tissues, or napkins, to dab under their eyes. The sign teacher fought back her own tears as she delivered the heartfelt message to an appreciative Mona.
Suddenly, it was as though the three principals were alone in this hall that had fallen silent. Weeks later, over coffee, P.K. Beville relived the day, acting out the various parts, first standing, then sitting, only to jump up again to role-play Mona.
How did she feel in that critical moment? What was it like for this founder of an expanding, maturing enterprise, one that unarguably boosts morale of residents and staff?
Beville described how the sign teacher volunteered to return in the weeks to come to help unlock the words and feelings trapped inside the two friends. Next, she showed everyone present how to sign, "Never stop dreaming!"
"To watch that small sea of people signing those words, every one of us vowing to never stop dreaming," said Beville, who refuses to accept a salary, "well, it was a moment I wanted to freeze in time. I now tell our people, 'Never underestimate the power of love, and communication, to overcome any obstacle.'"
(To contact Second Wind Dreams, or to contribute, write: SWD 1031 Cambridge Square, Suite G, Alpharetta, GA 30004. Email: email@example.com. Also, see Web site: www.secondwind.org)
Bard Lindeman welcomes questions from readers and will answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Bard at 5428 Oxbow Rd., Stone Mountain, GA 30087-1228 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
©Casa Grande Valley Newspaper 2004