Over the past month, we have received many compliments on the blossoming Elizabeth Magnolia tree that sits at the edge of our memory garden at Hope & A Future. This tree is now in its third home and has a beautiful story to tell.
Before starting Hope & A Future, Rick and Karin ran Intergenerational House, a two bed Adult Family Home (AFH) out of their family home in Middleton, Wisconsin. Prior to starting their AFH, Karin had been working as a private duty nurse in patients' homes. Elizabeth (Liz) Sewell was a very special patient to Karin during this time. Despite the challenges and barriers created by Liz's multi-infarct dementia, Karin and Liz shared a very special connection. When Liz's disease had progressed to the point of requiring two person assistance for transfers, activities of daily living, etc., she was moved into a skilled nursing facility. Karin continued to visit Liz regularly, and was heartbroken to find Liz confused, upset, and often not properly bathed during her visits. Due to the inadequate care and lack of stimulation Liz was receiving, her dementia was progressing at a rapid rate. Karin and Liz's husband, Bill, knew that something had to change. Bill's health was failing at this time as well. Before he passed away, as Karin sat next to his bedside he said to her, "Bring the generations of children together". Karin loved the way he said that, because it reminded her that we are all children of God. It was at this point that Rick and Karin made the decision to start a business that would allow them to move Liz into their home, where they could provide proper, round the clock care for her. (Pictured below: Karin and Liz)
As Rick and Karin's middle daughter, I was eleven when Elizabeth became the first person to move into our family home under my parents' care. Being an adolescent, I was resistant to the change in our family and home dynamic. However, I had accompanied my mom on many of her visits with Liz. Our family had started having dinner with Liz, her husband, and some family friends at Liz's skilled nursing facility every Monday night several months prior. We would bring a beautiful meal, play music, and visit every week. The decline in Liz's physical and mental health after moving into the facility was undeniable.
The Monday night dinners and Liz's art therapy sessions were the main sources of joy in her life. She had been an artist her entire life before dementia took over, but thanks to the efforts of my mom and a wonderful art therapist, art had been reintroduced into her life. Seeing the way that looking at beautiful pictures, choosing colors, and putting brush to watercolor paper made Liz come alive was like watching magic happen. It stimulated her senses, made her laugh and smile, and provided an opportunity for her to communicate in a way that didn't seem possible. Watching her process inspired me to become an art therapist at the age of eleven and I never changed my mind. In 2009, I completed my undergrad in Art Therapy at Edgewood College and am proud to be the art therapist and activity director at Hope & A Future today. (Pictured below: Liz creating an abstract watercolor painting based on a photo of an Iris that she chose from a calendar.)
Needless to say, Liz won us all over and became a part of the family. Our childhood antics, crazy dog, music, and dancing made Liz smile and laugh every day. Her smiles and laughter were a great source of joy for us. Our family grew as her husband, children, and friends became a regular part of our lives. Years later, she passed away peacefully in our home. On the night that she died, I had a dream that I went into her room to check on her. She was sitting straight up in bed with a big smile on her face. She was kicking her legs out of the blankets and laughing, but they weren't the legs of a frail, elderly woman. They were young, strong, muscular legs with sun kissed skin. I said, "Liz! Your legs are so beautiful!" and she laughed the biggest, most beautiful laugh I've ever heard. When I woke up and opened my eyes, I could still hear that amazing laugh ringing in my ears. My mom was standing next to my bed with her hand on my shoulder. When our eyes met, she said, "Liz just passed away". Days later, I told my mom about the dream I was having as Liz was dying. Listening to my story, her eyes filled with tears and she said, " Liz was a dancer. I think you got a glimpse of her heavenly legs. " I believe that to be true, and I believe that the sound ringing in my ears when I woke up that morning was the sounds of Liz's pure joy, free from pain, in her heavenly body, meeting Jesus.
Toward the end of Liz's life, my mom decided to write the business plan for Hope & A Future. The Sewell family gave Elizabeth's ashes to my family and hoped they would one day be at Hope & A Future. It took many years for the vision for Hope & A Future to come to fruition, so eventually her ashes were planted with an Elizabeth Magnolia tree in the front yard of our family home in Middleton. When my family moved to Madison to start Hope & A Future, the tree came with. As we made plans for the new building, it became evident that the tree would need to move. It has now found its third and final home at the edge of Hope & A Future's memory garden, where we can see its beautiful blossoms from the kitchen window. As my mom says, "Now that we are finally making plans for the next and biggest phase of development, the tree looks as excited as we are!"
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Written by members of the Hope & a Future community including residents, volunteers, and staff.