“They call me the Puzzle Lady,” says Edie Courville, age 83, of Deer Isle. We have just concluded our fifth of six Successful Aging Creativity Circle sessions. Healthy Peninsula was selected to coordinate one of four pilot sites across the country for this innovative pilot project, a program of the Foundation for Art and Healing Un-Lonely Project, whose mission is to help older adults process thoughts and feelings about aging through creative expression and reflection on topics such as self-care, brain health, and communication. The pilot project is supervised by Healthy Peninsula’s Executive Director Janet Lewis, who recruited René Colson Hudson, Executive Director of the Healthy Island Project to facilitate the sessions with older adults from Deer Isle.
As part of my social work internship with Healthy Peninsula this year, I have been fortunate to participate in the Creativity Circles. The vitality of our seven group participants, all over the age of 70, inspired me to share a few of their stories in this article. All the participants named were happy to let me tell their stories.
Edie, the Puzzle Lady, explains to me that every week she travels to Ellsworth, Bangor or Rockport, to find jigsaw puzzles in thrift stores. She brings these back to Deer Isle and is responsible for distributing and rotating puzzles between Deer Run Apartments, Island Nursing Home, and a collection of isolated older adults with whom she has special contact. She has folks write their initials on the puzzle boxes once they are completed, to ensure she does not bring the same one twice.
Group member Lorraine Knowlton joins the conversation and tells me, “Edie just runs around all the time, but it’s therapeutic for her to do this for people.” Edie laughs, and agrees: “That’s my relaxation, that’s my self-care. It keeps you going. I would age in a minute if I didn’t get out and do things.”
Lorraine can speak from firsthand experience. At 86 years old, she is the Pastor of the Community of Christ Church on Burnt Cove Road. She holds primary responsibility for keeping the building going, coordinating outside use of the building, organizing fundraisers—including a baked bean supper for 90 people this October—and giving sermons each month. She tells me, “I’ve spent full days on the phone about this building. It all falls on my lap.”
In addition to her clerical work, Lorraine loves to cook for residents at the Deer Run apartments where she lives. Between January and June of this year, she was organizing a team of volunteers to prepare two meals weekly for 12-16 people. Although still involved, she was relieved that someone else has stepped in to fill this role. She continues to enjoy preparing coffee and helping with meals when she can.
Additionally, most Fridays, Lorraine picks up her nine-year-old great-granddaughter after school and the two spend the afternoon at Random Pottery in Brooklin making bowls and cups. She said, “Being able at this age to go get my great-granddaughter and spend all afternoon with her is really special. Not everyone is able to do that.”
Bruce Matters, 77, brings a wide range of unusual experiences and stories to the Creativity Circle from his decades of international work and adventure. For example, he worked as a “roustabout” on a sheep ranch in New Zealand. In 1981 he brought a lobster boat up to Deer Isle and eventually bought an acre of land in Sunset, where he built his own house in the 1990s. After working as a Certified Nursing Assistant at Island Nursing Home, he founded Coastal Caretakers in 2003, a company which currently provides weekly health and safety evaluations for older adults who are aging-in-place. Beyond managing Coastal Caretakers, Bruce maintains a vegetable garden and raises chickens and bees. A member of the Tri-County Beekeepers Club, he has become a mentor for new beekeepers.
Bruce emphasizes the need for maintaining good health into his older age. “Health care is self-care,” he says. “You just have to put in the effort. It draws you out of feeling sorry for yourself and allows you to be helpful to others.” Bruce’s self-care takes many forms: watching his diet, taking saunas, walking eight miles per week, and the practices of prayer and meditation. He has practiced meditation in the Kadampa tradition for ten years and credits it with reducing stress and cultivating inner-peace. “Through prayer and meditation, your mind slows down, but awareness becomes keener. Everything you do all day long becomes a lesson, a teaching.” He adds, “when you can look within for happiness, this is the key.”
As the Successful Aging Creativity Circle formally concludes on November 15th, group members have expressed the desire to continue meeting informally to discuss the challenges and opportunities of growing older. One member has started calling the group her “little Friday family.” Later this winter, Healthy Peninsula will host and facilitate a second pilot of the Creativity Circles, this time to be held in Blue Hill. If you are interested or have questions, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Juster, University of Maine School of Social Work Student Intern, Healthy Peninsula