Sky above Clouds: Finding Our Way through Creativity, Aging, and Illness

Sky above Clouds: Finding Our Way through Creativity, Aging, and Illness

Sky above Clouds: Finding Our Way through Creativity, Aging, and Illness

Sky above Clouds: Finding Our Way through Creativity, Aging, and Illness

Synopsis

Through their scientific research and clinical practice, husband and wife team Gene D. Cohen and Wendy L. Miller uncovered new clues about how the aging mind can build resilience and continue growth, even during times of grave illness, thus setting aside the traditional paradigm of aging as a time of decline. Cohen, considered one of the founding fathers of geriatric psychiatry, describes what happens to the brain as it ages and the potential that is often overlooked. Miller, an expressive arts therapist and educator, highlights stories of creative growth in the midst of illness and loss encountered through her clinical practice. Together, Cohen and Miller show that with the right tools, the uncharted territory of aging and illness can, in fact, be navigated. In this book, the reader finds the real story of not only Cohen's belief in potential, but also how he and his family creatively used it in facing his own serous health challenges. With Miller's insights and expressive psychological writing, Sky Above Clouds tells the inside story of how attitude, community, creativity, and love shape a life, with or without health, even to our dying. Cohen and Miller draw deeply on their own lessons learned as they struggle through aging, illness, and loss within their own family and eventually Cohen's own untimely death. What happens when the expert on aging begins to age? And what happens when the therapist who helps others cope with illness and loss is forced to confront her own responses to these experiences? The result is a richly informative and emotional journey of growth.

Excerpt

Sky above clouds is a beautiful metaphor that dignifies the process of aging and the process of living, especially in difficult times. Aging can be challenging and often lonely. This can lead to deep spiritual and existential distress as people try to find their inherent meaning and purpose in life. Society moves at a rapid pace, often not giving space to the wisdom of the older person. People can feel useless and cast aside. They can experience deep hopelessness and despair. The other day, at my father’s senior living community, I overheard a resident say, “I wish there was someone that could hold my hand and tell me everything will be ok.” Sky Above Clouds does just that. In the midst of the clouds that at times overshadow our daily lives, there is hope in remembering that there is a sky above these clouds—one that holds the memories of who we were, and the hopes and possibilities of what we are still becoming.

I had the privilege of knowing Gene Cohen at George Washington University. He was a brilliant man who found a new meaning in his own life through his struggle with cancer. I loved his strong will to live with zest and vigor. Even when his body did not have much energy, he continued to learn, teach, and produce amazing works of creativity and scholarship. His experience with illness and his fight to be recognized as a well person, in spite of the label of cancer, inspired him to advocate for a paradigm shift in how we, as a medical community and as a society, view aging and illness. He shattered those images of bodies slumped in wheelchairs, people with vacant stares, and warehouses of the silently suffering ill, with research studies proving that everyone—no matter how ill, how old, how cognitively impaired—has the capacity to grow, learn, and keep living to the very end. And his treatment was creativity—ways to unleash the deep inspiration in all people to help them reconnect with their deep inner selves, their souls, and to find new meaning, new ways of expressing themselves, new ways to hope and to love again. He measured outcomes such as mastery, control, and civic engagement. He also showed how people with dementia improved their quality of life and ability to communicate through creative arts. His passion inspired new clinical models . . .

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