Helen Keller, a deaf and blind American author said, ‘The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart’. Christmas provides us with a special time when we can touch people’s hearts. The way we do this is not so much by what we give but more importantly how we give, and how we receive. When my mother had advanced Alzheimer’s she felt with her heart and our gifts to each other were through the feelings in our hearts. She emphasised the importance of feeling when she said to me, ‘These are wonderful moments. Remember them and feel them’.
So let us consider how our heartfelt feelings of love and gratitude might be expressed and experienced this Christmas. We interpret feelings through our senses: we can see emotion in someone’s eyes, hear it in his or her tone of voice and feel it through the quality of their touch. Although words are the main means of communication for most of us it has been found that words themselves are the least effective way of communicating feelings and emotions. The exception to this is poetry where words are the vehicle for expressing meaningful thoughts and feelings.
Since feelings are communicated mainly non-verbally, people with Alzheimer’s who have limited or no speech can still communicate effectively with us when it comes to feelings. In fact neuroscientists have found that people with Alzheimer’s have a greater capacity for empathy than we do and tune into our feelings much more than we might imagine. The same scientists found when we feel love for people with Alzheimer’s they respond with feelings of love for us. They call this, ‘emotional contagion’.
So let each of us connect with our heart this Christmas and let our feelings of love shine through our eyes, resonate though our voice and be felt through our touch. And when we are receiving a gift, be it a material gift or a loving look, tone of voice or gesture, let us take a moment to feel gratitude and be thankful in our hearts for what we are receiving.
Throughout the ages sages have taught us that Love is eternal. My mother confirmed this when near the end of her life she told me, ‘Love never dies’. So when we are giving and receiving this precious gift of love remember, it is not just for now, it is for eternity.
Wishing you a loving Christmas and looking forward to connecting with you again in the New Year.
Maggie La Tourelle
Author of, The Gift of Alzheimer’s – New Insights into the Potential of Alzheimer’s and its Care.