Posted by: karljfeller | June 18, 2014

Mary Poppins and a Flashlight

As a Chaplain for East Valley Hospice, I have visited a lot of patients with dementia. I often come across spouses and family members of these patients that struggle to communicate with their loved one as they deal with Alzheimer’s and or Dementia. One of my patients could barely walk and the only thing that came out of his mouth was the song, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-” but that’s where he’d stop. I had to learn the rest of the words before I visited him the next time. When I returned, I was able to help him finish the song.

I continued to ask his wife questions about what he had enjoyed doing earlier in life. After some digging, she told me that he liked to spend time in his workshop. “What did he do in there?” I asked. She told me that he enjoyed working with all sorts of lights. Light intrigued him earlier in life. After some brainstorming, I decided to bring a flashlight with me to my next visit.

On my way to my next visit with him, I had picked up an older looking flashlight and brought it to my patient. He looked at it. Looked at me then he turned it on and began shining it around the room. Sometimes in the eyes of the other people in his home.Image

Eventually, with childlike wonder, he opened the flashlight and only one battery fell out. The original version of these flashlights used two batteries, but this newer one used an LED bulb and only needed one battery.

As the battery fell onto his lap, he looked at it, he then looked down the barrel of the vintage looking flashlight. Silence.

Then he looked up at me and said, “Where’s the other one?” This man who could only sing the first line of a Mary Poppins song asked me a question. Engaging in activity with him, brought him just a moment of clarity. Comfort. Peace.

I left the flashlight with him that day. Although, I never heard him speak again, we’d pull out the flashlight whenever I’d visit, and a smile would come across his face as he flashed it around his living room.

Karl J Feller, Chaplain and Marketing Director at East Valley Hospice



  1. Your digging really paid off with a great moment. You inspire me to do more digging with my mother-in-law and my neighbor, Miss D.

    • Miss D. Thanks so much for the encouragement. I’d love to hear what you’ve found to help your mother-in-law and neighbor. Also, if our team at East Valley Hospice can be a help, we would be honored to serve you. If they live in or near the East Valley here in Phoenix, we can even send a nurse out to evaluate them or connect you with resources.

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