How to Creatively Address Fear with Elders

I took this photo, assuming the black snake was dead. Had I known he was only playing possum because of his terror of me, I would never have gotten down on my hands and knees and inched my face so closely toward his to get this shot.

Of what are you terrified? Are you afraid to talk about the elephant in the room? Some people are afraid to open a can of worms by avoiding topics such as death and pain.  I find this ironic, especially in the world of elders. I believe it’s important to tap into the stuff that’s brewing in their psyche and allow them to voice their most authentic fears, losses, and affections.

I decided to test my theory by addressing fear during a creative engagement experience with a gathering of Assisted Living residents.  Research concludes that fear is one of the four basic emotions which include happy, sad, and anger/disgust. After our standard warm-up, followed by a few scary knock-knock jokes, I asked them to name their fears so we could compare their list with research. Their list included storms, death, heights, burglars, falling, having teeth pulled, “losing all my money,” becoming “senile,” losing family, mean dogs, and of course, rats, mice, spiders, and snakes.

Then it got deeper. Here’s what happened:

ME: O.k., so we’re going to create a haiku about fear. A haiku is a poem with three lines. The first and third have five syllables, and the second line has seven. Let’s come up with our first line. The line doesn’t have to have five words, but five syllables.

SHE#1: Drowning.

ME:  Drowning? How about we make that work for what fear does to us?  Our last line could end with, “I’m drowning in fear.” There. Five syllables! So, what are we afraid of? Let’s pick out something.

THEY: Imagination.

ME: Perfect. That’s another five syllables. So, what about our middle line? It needs seven syllables.

SHE#2: The water came up too fast.

ME: The water came up too fast?

SHE#1: My husband drowned in a pond.

ME: Oh, my goodness! I’m so sorry. Thank you for not being afraid to share that with us. That must have been a terrible thing for you.

(I walk toward SHE #1 and give her a hug)

SHE#1: Thanks. I needed that.

I encourage you not to be afraid to address the deeper emotions of the individuals you serve. They are simply waiting for you to open the door, give them a voice, and embrace them.

Fear Haiku


The water came up too fast

I’m drowning in fear


Creatively yours,



“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” – H.P. Lovecraft