I suppose before I jump into what I did on my trip to Ireland, I should give you a little background on how all this came about. The short story is that it was all divine intervention. The (shortened) long story is a little more random.
Like a lot of my best stories, social media played a big role. It all started with an Instagram post. I saw a posting talking about a program called SALT (Serving the Aged Lovingly Today) that was sponsored by the Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm. Now here is where I should tell you that I’m not Catholic. Yes, I have some interest in the Catholic faith, but I was raised as Baptist as one can be living in the South. Anyways, here was a program that was based around serving the elderly, something that is very near and dear to my heart. I immediately filled out the application, but took pause when it asked me my interests/hobbies. I put the basics down. You know the ones: reading, spending time with my friends/family, etc. The only problem was do I list genealogy. Genealogy is a huge part of my life, but how could I possibly use it to help the elderly? I continued and finished filling out the rest of the application and then right before I hit submit, I went back and added genealogy to list.
Okay…I’m going to skip a large chunk of the story here. One, because this will be a really long post if I don’t and two, it’s just details.
The fact that I added genealogy to my “hobbies” list opened a huge door and an even bigger opportunity. The suggestion was made to use my genealogy knowledge and make “memory books” for the residents at the nursing homes the SALT volunteers would visit. That way, the residents would not only have their stories written in a book, but they would also have something they could pass down to future generations. I thought that this was an amazing idea!
Fast forward a couple of months and I find myself on a plane to Dublin, Ireland…the first stop on the SALT “tour”. I had never been to Ireland. Sure I had heard family folklore stories about Ireland, particularity from my Grandpa who was very proud of his Irish heritage. To say I was excited would have been an understatement.
Myself, along with seven other girls, would be staying at a nursing home located in Dalkey, Ireland. We would “live” there for the week and serve the elderly the best way possible, by just being there for them. We would go to Mass with them daily, play games and have sing-a-longs with them, and most importantly work on their memory books.
The “memory book” project started day one. I found myself explaining to the other girls who were there volunteering what exactly these books needed to be and how to put them together. I had worked on a list of questions to ask the residents for their books just in case any of us got stuck during our one-on-one time with the residents. To say I was a little intimidated would have been an understatement. Sure, I had done other projects like this before, but never in a group setting and never at a nursing home. I just prayed that God would show us the best way to tackle this project.
Oh boy, did God show up! Each of the volunteers were assigned two residents, with the hopes that at least one would be willing to participate. We had some residents that didn’t feel comfortable sharing their life stories. We had others that didn’t think they had done anything worthy of a “memory books”. Then we had the residents where we didn’t even have to ask a single question because they were that eager to share their story.
At the end of the week, we presented our residents with their “memory book”. All of the girls had done an amazing job. Each book was made not only out of the love we developed for our resident, but out of what we discovered they needed most. One book was made as a sensory book for a resident who was losing their sight. One book was made as a remembrance for the family members that a resident had lost. One book was made as a family tree so as not to lose the ancestors who came before. Each book was unique to the experience and each book served as a genealogy treasure, either to remember the past or to not forget the present.
I think as a Genealogist we sometimes forget the human connection. That those living are creating history as we speak. We get so involved in those who have already passed that we forget the importance of recording what is happening now. My week in Ireland reminded me to not only record the stories of my Grandparents (and those older generations), but to also start making notes of my own history. All any of us wants someday is for somebody to listen to the things we have experienced and how those moments made us feel. Yes, the majority of the time spent doing genealogy is research, but we shouldn’t forget the importance of listening. Hidden gems are there just waiting for us to take the time to listen.
There is so much more I could write about this experience. My fellow volunteers, the Sisters, the staff, and of course, the residents, made this a week that I will never forget. I highly suggest that if you have the time to sit down with the elderly and just talk about their lives, you will not regret it. Also, if you looking for more information about the SALT Program or the Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm, I’ve posted some links below. Lastly, if you have any questions on the “memory book” project, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org