By Keisha L. Jackson
Proverbs 22:6 reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. (NKJV)”
Though this scripture has been interpreted in many ways, the “training up” one daughter received from her mom more than 50 years ago became the lifeline that kept them connected years later.
When Loretta Veney Woodard was five, her mom bought her a box of LEGO bricks. Although her mom struggled to “put food on the table,” she believed educational tools that promote using your imagination were worth investing time and money in.
As a teen, Loretta and her mom would use LEGO bricks to help them work through life’s challenges. When a boy wasn’t speaking to Loretta, she and her mom would build; when her mom was having a hard time at work, she and her mom would build.
Loretta never gave her childhood LEGO collections away. As an adult, she continued adding to her LEGO collections and always found ways to incorporate them into teambuilding and tabletop exercises throughout her 40-year security manager career.
Loretta also kept a set of LEGO bricks in her car. This proved to be helpful when a neurologist told her now 77-year-old mom, “You are in the beginning stages of dementia.” Although Loretta wasn’t prepared for the diagnosis, she told her mom “Whatever happens… we will do this together with a lot of joy.”
Driving home from the doctor, Loretta asked her mom to describe how she was feeling, but her mom wouldn’t talk. Loretta reached inside the center console of her car, took out some LEGO pieces, and placed them in her mom’s lap. Her mom took the head off a LEGO mini figure and told Loretta her greatest fear would be that years from then, she would lose her head.
As her mom’s dementia progressed, Loretta became known by her mom as a “very nice person.” However, whenever Loretta would “get the bricks out,” her mom would remember their lifelong connection with LEGO bricks and look at Loretta—but not with that “blank stare.”
The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the NY Times, Psychology Today, AARP Caregiver Stories, as well as a PBS special entitled Alzheimer’s the Caregiver’s Perspective, featured the two of them in articles and TV specials. Loretta was also selected as a Trailblazer of the Year by Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Loretta’s mom died almost three weeks before her 93rd birthday. The day before her death, Loretta and her mom bonded through LEGO bricks…just like they did when Loretta was a child.
Parents, guardians, caregivers, train up a child in the way he should go; and like Loretta, when your child is old, he will not depart from it.