L’Arche Comox Valley runs the Sharing Side by Side program. Photo by Scott Strasser

COLUMN: Sharing Side by Side returns to the Comox Valley

Every senior has a story. But not everyone gets the chance to tell it.

The other day I sat down for an interview with Comox Valley seniors Dorothy Hamilton and Marilyn Simpson for an article about L’Arche Comox Valley’s “Sharing Side by Side” program.

The program — which started somewhat spontaneously from a lunchtime meeting at L’Arche in the fall of 2014 — is a way for seniors in the Valley to meet one-on-one and “share their stories” and memories with one another.

Through the program, participants are paired with volunteers and meet regularly in whichever setting they prefer. The assigned pairs share their life’s memories and then record them in whatever medium they’d like, whether it’s through a book, audio, artwork or a short film.

“So many times we are not heard. Our children are too busy, our grandchildren are too busy and no one is there to hear some of the stories that we carry,” said Marilyn, a volunteer with L’Arche.

Through my interview with Marilyn and Dorothy, I expected to learn the usual information necessary for a news article — when the program started, why it’s important, when it starts, how many people take part, etc.

What happened instead was rather fascinating. Shortly into our interview, Dorothy enthusiastically started sharing with me stories from her life. For the next half hour, I listened to this 90-year old woman recount her memories of what life was like as a teenager on Vancouver Island during the Second World War, her collection of poetry and journal entries she’s been writing for decades and a humorous hunting story from her younger days.

“I enjoy just hearing myself remember those things,” said Dorothy. “But there are many other people who never get the chance to talk about what it was like for them.”

And I suppose, therein lies the beauty of the Sharing Side by Side program. It provides seniors the opportunity to share and record memories of a life long lived. By doing so, they can create friendships and build a sense of community in a safe setting.

“I don’t know how to express it, other than we’re giving people permission to bring their memories to the fore,” said Marilyn. “There’s no judgment to it. It’s simply their opportunity to recount the things that influenced or affected their lives.”

Understandably, not everyone is as keen to share their history as Dorothy was to me. Some of the participants struggle to communicate, due to developmental disabilities. (L’Arche Comox Valley primarily caters to adults with developmental disabilities). But regardless, the program gives them the opportunity to share what otherwise may be lost forever.

“It’s so incredible that one memory begets another one from someone else,” said Marilyn. “It’s like this circle that just keeps expanding, like when you throw a stone into a pond and the circles keep moving out.

“One person starts to tell their story and one piece of it, whether it’s the music or the colour of someone’s scarf, and all of a sudden it moves out and it encompasses a lot of people. I think that’s what Side by Side is trying to do.”

Registration for the Sharing Side by Side program runs until Nov. 10. Sessions will run from November 2017 until February 2018. Alongside the pairings, there are also a few group sessions. For more information, visit http://bit.ly/2yCeahG or call program coordinator Carol Nielsen at 250 871-6288.

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