There was No One Else Like Richard
How can I possibly write about what Dr. Richard Lyon Morgan meant to me? It has been more than a year since he passed away and I still haven’t been able to write about him. So today is the day.
Richard was a driver and lover of big ideas. We both shared a love of storytelling. Why did we both love this? Because it is something every single person shares in this life. We all have a story. Our stories are a great bridge. It allows older and younger to come together, and that is something that Richard and I both really thought was incredibly important. We cannot go through this life alone. We must do it together, and we can make it better by sharing wisdom, experiences, and our own personal stories with each other. In an ageist society, Richard refused to let his age and the fact that he lived in a retirement community stop him from contributing greatly to the lives and happiness of others. He was a great storyteller.
The idea of complete retirement was beyond him, and it should be placed outside our minds as well if we want to learn from Richard. Yes, we may need times of rest, but we should never stop in our quest to follow The Way and, as a result, love one another. As long as he had breath, Richard was walking that road and sharing the life and love of Jesus. I remember him telling me how he would lead worship with people living with dementia, and he would gently put a rope around the backs of the group in a circle and they would sing, “Bind Us Together Lord, Bind Us Together with Cords that Cannot be Broken.” Beautiful. Vivid. Authentic. The right thing to do. He had a special way of relating to people living with dementia, and it was marvelous to read what he learned from using Dr. Daniel Potts’s father’s book of artwork with people living with dementia at Redstone Highlands. Richard documented what people living with dementia said as they responded to artwork created by a man with dementia, and he saw breakthroughs in this. He was an advocate for keeping people with dementia involved in many things and engaged; they can do more than we expect. I was so impressed by the book, Treasure for Alzheimer’s: Reflecting on Experiences with the Art of Lester E. Potts, Jr. by Dr. Richard L. Morgan and Dr. Daniel C. Potts. (Lester’s amazing artwork is now online at Home | lesterslegacy)
Richard would never give up on people, even when others may have thought there was nothing that could be done for someone with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. He never saw them as just a “shell” of who they had been. He was willing and able to be a friend no matter the person’s state of mind. As a follower of Jesus, he reminded me of Christ with his ability to deeply listen and to care. He knew how to bring comfort with his kind eyes, a caring laugh, or conversing with someone who may or may not be able to say something back. Still, he would try and do it without fear.
Years ago, when I visited him at Redstone Highlands, he went so far as to conduct a short but powerful ceremony in their chapel to “ordain” me into my current life’s work of capturing life stories (and now addressing loneliness too). He was an expert in spiritual autobiography and spoke on aging very openly to inform younger generations. Remembering Your Story: Creating Your Own Spiritual Autobiography is just one of his many books. I always liked Pilgrimage Into the Last Third of Life: 7 Gateways to Spiritual Growth. Also, Light of Setting Suns is a must read from his experiences at age 90. Richard and Jane Thibault were well known for a book with a title that says it all, No Act of Love is Ever Wasted: The Spirituality of Caring for Persons with Dementia. Richard was deeply instrumental in the founding of ClergyAgainstAlzheimer’s, a national network that raises awareness about the moral imperative for communities of faith to become dementia friendly and truly welcoming. He was also a co-editor of Dementia-Friendly Worship (senior editors: Lynda Everman and Don Wendorf).
He was always giving me great insights and ideas, to understand the heart and mind of someone older than me. He was beyond inspirational. He also had unlimited energy, it seemed, to write books and we completed our intergenerational 12-week Bible study together, The Great Story and Your Story, when he was 80 and I was 40. This book, which is still available today, uses Bible stories to inspire people to share their own testimonies with each other in small groups. We included the perspective from our own life stories so, as a result, I got to know him better by working on this book with him and it had a deep impact on me. He was a joy to write with and work with. He did not have to take the time to do this project (as he had many ideas and things to do), but he had a love of collaboration. It was fun for him to work with others to write books and I am not the only one who experienced this! It was an incredible honor that he used www.lifebio.com to create his own story for his family. When he was 92, he gave his reactions to the LifeBio Memory app (he was learning and excited about easier storytelling methods being invented).
He genuinely wanted to know what was going on in my life when we met face to face or spoke on the phone. He knew that my work mattered, but my family mattered more. He would always ask about both and remember what was most important to me. We were still talking, sharing ideas, absolutely laughing (at the funny things of this world), and considering “What’s next?” even 10 years later when he was well past 90 and I was well past 50. One of the most powerful things about the amazing Richard (besides the fact that he was a preacher, counselor, writer, husband, father, and grandfather) was that he was a caregiver for anyone with whom he came in contact. He loved Dr. Daniel Potts, Lynda Everman, Don Wendorf, Dr. Jane Thibault, Dr. Harry "Rick" Moody, and so many more that I cannot name them all. Here we were worrying about him and his health, and he was commonly worrying and praying for all of us and his precious family. He was our pastor. He appreciated people who were working so hard to truly improve the lives of people with dementia. It was so amazing to meet all of you (Danny, Lynda, Don, Jane, Rick) at different times and to realize that we all had a connection to Dr. Richard Lyon Morgan! No wonder really! He made good friends and kept them. I could learn a thing or two from him about building a network.
As he required help as he aged, there is no doubt in my mind, that every day, he cared for the people who cared for him. He was a caregiver of caregivers. He related to them, he saw the low-paid, direct care worker as someone who deeply mattered, and he would help them as they helped him. They were not invisible; they were worthy and loved. He realized that injustice was real, and he fought it at every turn. He was aware of suffering, loss, and pain from his own and others’ experiences. During our last phone call together, “He had to go” as the caregiver was coming into his room to help him. I had no doubt that this was a care partnership. Richard spent as much time “loving on them” as they spent caring and loving him. He would have conversed and listened to show his love. They knew he truly cared. That is the Dr. Richard L. Morgan way and the mighty Way of Jesus Christ. May it be so in our own lives until our very last breath. Amen.
--- Beth Sanders, Founder and CEO, LifeBio, Inc.
Richard and his wife, Alice Ann