Color Or Paint? Assisted Living Art Class Update

In my last blog post, I promised to keep you updated on the art class at my Mom’s assisted living facility.  We have had two classes since that last post.  Not many words today, I’m going to let the pictures from our time together speak for themselves…

Here are the pictures from our second class together.  I have acrylic paints and watercolors available, but everyone chose to color.

 

 

 

 

 

Roberta turned page over and began to draw her own picture.

 

 

 

 

We met again today, our 3rd class together.  I decided to try something new and gave all the class members the same picture to paint.  I have been working on a birdhouse painting of my own so I drew a smaller version of that picture onto canvases, and had them ready to paint.  At the beginning of class, there were a few moans and groans from participants about everyone painting the same picture.  “Are we going to compare them?”  I spent most of class reassuring everyone that his/her painting was beautiful and unique.  No comparisons — this is not a competition.

 

 

 

 

 

Didn’t they do a fantastic job?  I love how they are the same, and yet so different.    And as you can see from the photos, some still wanted to use colored pencils or crayons, and that’s okay.  I want them to feel comfortable, enjoy the time, and not feel stressed.  Like I said last time — no rules here.

A few weeks ago, I was a bit worried and intimidated to do an art “class”.  I am not qualified to teach an art class.  But you know what? These precious people don’t want to learn how to be artists.  They want something to do to pass the time.  They want to be creative.  They want someone to take an interest in them.  They want to be encouraged.  They want to be blessed.

And you and I can help with those things.

Who in your community needs some encouragement?  What lonely person in your life just needs something to do?

Find those people; step out of your comfort zone, and go bless them!!  Seriously… go!

You’re going to be really glad you did.

 

 

 

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How Art Lessons For the Elderly Teach Life Lessons to Me

“I want to come back, Connie.  Whatever it takes, I want to come home.”

It has been almost 2 years since I put “pen to paper” about my journey with my elderly mother.  If any of you are still listening, I will give a quick update and then begin again to chronicle this season of our life — my mother and me.

I received a call from Mom last October (2016), and she sounded distressed.  She had been living, as you recall, in an assisted-living facility close to my sister’s home — about a 2 hour drive from me.   As I picked up the chirping phone, those words from my mother surprised me.  She had been doing well, and had adjusted to assisted living.  She was involved in many of the activities, and seemed to be content.  So this plea to come home caught me by surprise.

I will not go into all the details of what transpired over the course of the few months prior to mom’s discontent.  I had not, myself, been aware of them until the phone rang that very day.   However, by the time Mom called, her mind was made up.  So the next day, I called the assisted-living facility in her hometown, and was able, within a few short weeks, to secure an apartment.  She is now living back in my area, and I am again her “go-to” daughter.

I kind of like it that way.

In the quick process of making plans for Mom, my siblings and I actually talked about one of the independent-living apartments of this local senior complex for her.  Could she live on her own again?  Would she be able to do so in this early stage of dementia?  But when given the choice, Mom chose assisted-living.  “I don’t want to cook.  I want everything in the same building.  I don’t want to walk across the courtyard for my meals.”  These were her decisions.  Her choices.  She has settled in, and this time, I think her contentment is genuine.

Even with this newfound peace, one of the things Mom misses is the art class as this new facility has no art program.  On several occasions, the Administrator and I have talked about the possibility of an art class.  One time she asked, “Would you like to teach it?” (Oh my, be careful what you ask for).  My quick response was, “Oh no, I’m not an artist.  I’m just learning myself.”  But several weeks went by, and I kept thinking about an art class for this group of seniors.  Do they really want to learn how to be an artist?  Or do they just need to use their hands and minds?  Something that brings them together as a community.  A time to talk.  Something to create.  Something to be proud of.  I spoke of this to my sister who lives far away.  She feels the burden of not being close enough to care for Mom.  Her response?  “Do it.  I’ll send you the money for supplies”.

So today was our first official “art class”.  The nurses went down hallways and knocked on doors, reminding residents of this new addition to their schedule.   Six residents eventually joined me in the dining room where 6 tables had been pushed together and draped in plastic.  I had one set of tables filled with all my offerings:  acrylic and watercolor paints, canvas boards, coloring books, crayons, colored pencils, and numerous other artsy stuff.  I knew within a few moments that the cluttered table was too overwhelming so I concentrated on name tags and seating.

One by one I got each artist involved in a project.  Bob was willing to do anything:  “Connie, just tell me what to do”.  He completed one project, and was ready for another.  And again, in a rather booming voice, “Connie, just tell me what to do”.  Thelma and Daisy chose to color.  Nita didn’t seem to understand at all what was going on, but I gently placed a coloring page in front of her with a small box of crayons.  By the end of the hour, she had two pink flamingos with orange beaks and a blue sky.  Bless her heart, she knew what to do, and the picture was so sweet.  Roberta must have been a artist in her younger days for she said, “I like acrylic paints, do

you have those?”  When I started to squeeze the paint onto her palette, “Not too much; they are expensive, and we don’t want to waste it”.  Then she created a beautiful picture of flowers and greenery, mixing paint to the color of her choosing.  Phyllis wanted to participate, but kept saying, “I can’t see.  I only can see out of one eye.  It’s all too small.  I wish I could.”  So I drew a large, simple flower on the canvas, and placed it down.  “Can you see the outline?”  And she spent the entire time coloring that bloom.  My own mother chose to do a paint-by-number picture using colored pencils rather than the paint.  That’s ok.  No rules here.

This was a learning experience for all of us.  I already know how to make the next class easier for them (and me).  Some supplies will be returned to the store — who knew paint-by-number pictures had such microscopic detail!  I had also bought the new “adult” coloring books, thinking they would enjoy the beautiful pictures, however, I soon realized that those as well are too small and detailed for this class.  The larger the detail, the bigger the print, the better.

I’m hoping as the class gets comfortable being creative, we can move onto more challenging artwork.   But even if we don’t get beyond the crayons, I think I’m going to enjoy this group of ladies — and Bob.

 

Can you see the beauty?  Not in their handiwork, but in them?

I thought this art class was for my mother, for the residents, but as our time came to an end, I found myself whispering to Phyllis, patting Thelma on the back, and embracing this small group of people. I know Bob was a hog farmer “back in the day”.  I know Roberta’s sister recently passed away.  I know Daisy knew my mother when she was just a little girl.   I will know them by name when I see them in the hall next week.  This class was for me as much as it was for them.

So many lessons!

I’m not talking about art.

Nor the residents.

I already see that I am the student.

As the class develops, I will post updates here.

I hope you come back and see the beauty as it unfolds.

 

Is not wisdom found among the aged?  Does not long life bring understanding?  

— Job 12:12 New International Version Bible

Dinner With Mom

I walked into the hospital room, and was shocked by what I saw.  A old lady lie in the bed, mouth open, eyes rolled up toward the ceiling, sheet pulled up to the chin over the withered, disease-torn body.  I hardly recognized my mother.  How did this happen in 5 short months?  The doctors were stumped and couldn’t find any answers as my Mom wasted away.  They chased cancer, pulmonary arterial hypertension, and several other diagnosis.  None were confirmed.

That was 14 months ago.  We thought we would bury Mom before summer’s end.  We prayed to God; we cried out to one another; and we complained to the doctors.  “Why can’t you figure this out?”

Today I spent the afternoon with Mom in her new apartment at an assisted living facility.  After I was there for about an hour, she 20151014_172615asked if I wanted to eat dinner with her.  “Sure, I would love to”.

When the doctors finally figured out what was wrong with her, my Mom’s near-death situation improved quickly.  I feel completely blessed that my Mom is still here with us.

No grumbling today.  No complaining.  Thank you, Lord.

I love you, Mom.

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Adjusting to Assisted Living

I spent the day with my mom on Friday.  As I had planned the visit a few days in advance, my sister (the one who lives by Mom’s assisted living facility) called and asked if I would take her to a doctor appointment.  Mom had complained about being uncomfortable the last few days, and with her continuous weight gain, my sister felt the doctor should be consulted.doctor-clip-art-4

I don’t even know how to explain the appointment.  It was almost like a comedy routine between the doctor and my mom.   This doctor is probably 70 years old himself, and  has only seen mother one time.  He was kind of lost as her medical history over the last year is very complicated.   I tried to fill in the blanks and walk him through it, but well, it’s just complicated.   All I’ll say is at the beginning of the appointment, he said, ‘your thyroid is doing great; those numbers are good’.  And at the end of the appointment he said, ‘your thyroid is dead’.  Ok then.

But by the time we were walking out of the office, a CAT scan was scheduled for next week.  Good enough.  That’s all I wanted out of the appointment anyway.  Mission accomplished.

In the parking lot, Mom says’, ‘do I stop taking my water pills?’   ‘No, everything stays the same until we get the results from the CAT scan’.  We head for a restaurant to eat a late lunch, and Mom says, ‘he didn’t take any of this water off my tummy.’  ‘No, Mom, they aren’t going to do anything until after the scan’.

Mom and I make small talk at lunch, and once again she laments about not being in ‘her own apartment’.   Then she proceeds to tell me about her play money she won at Bingo.  She uses this cash to buy toiletries in the facility store.   She has recently changed dining tables for meals, and she tells me about her new friends at that table.  She talks about her watercolor class and her euchre game.  She tells me how much sewing she has been doing.   Oookkay…..

Last summer I read many books and articles about dementia.  One report said that loved ones will always want to go home.  No matter how content they are in their new surroundings.  No matter how long it has been since they were home, they will always want to go back.   They will continue to ask about going home.    The article suggests that saying things like, ‘well, that isn’t an option anymore’, or ‘this is your home now’ only causes frustration and anger for your loved one.  It is better to say things like, ‘I know you miss your home.  Some day, we can talk more about that’.  Then steer the conversation to different topic.   I have tried to implement that advice, and it really seems to work.  So when Mom talks about home, I listen and sympathize; I don’t get upset or try to talk her out of that desire.  I just move away from the subject, and we talk about other things.

When we are about done with lunch Mom asks again about her water pills.   ‘Yes, Mom, continue to take them’.

We go for some blood work and then head back to her apartment.  Walking into the facility, Mom says, ‘he didn’t take any of this water off my tummy’.   ‘No, Mom…’

After spending a few minutes looking at her watercolors in the art room, someone mentions the Good Friday service is about to begin.  Mom quickly walks me downstairs and says her good-byes.  I am not offended that she rushes me off.  I love that she wants to go to the service and be with her new friends.

As I take my leave, she asks for the third time about her water pills.

home-sweet-homeOn my way home, I do NOT cry — this is a first.    In the past, I have cried because my mother’s world had shrunk so small.  I grieved for her and the life she knew and missed.  But today, not only did I see confirmed that her short term memory loss is certainly still an issue, I saw her world enlarging again.  As Mom has settled into her new life, her heart has softened, and she is opening up to friendships and activities.  She is finding her place once again.

She may grumble.  She may always ask to go home.  But I’m not worried about her anymore.

She is content.  She may even be happy.

This IS becoming home.

 

 

Motherhood and the Circle of Life

circle-of-lifeI’m in a funk today, and tears have come too readily several times.  So unlike me.  I went to see Mom yesterday, and once again, I cried all the way home.  I’m not even sure why.  She is really doing okay.  Much better than any of us dreamed she would be doing in assisted living.  I got there just in time to sit in on the last 15 minutes of her Bingo game.  Mom looked up when I walked in, but barely acknowledged me as she continued to tap the corner of her bingo card.  Evidently Bingo is serious business.  I quietly grabbed an extra chair and just slid in beside her.  As they continued to play the last few rounds, I looked around the room and took in the other residents — they too were “nose to card”, so I could observe them freely.  Gray heads, feeble hands, canes, wheelchairs, walkers.  Everything you’d expect in a senior home.   All but two ladies were quiet and concentrating on their cards.  Those two were playing their own cards as well as their neighbors, reaching over to point out B10, G59.  They do this frequently and it irritates Mom.  I hear about it later (several times).    As I study these men and women, a sadness comes over me.  Really?  Is this where Mom fits in?  Is this her peer group now?  I struggle with accepting that.  The game finishes, Mom jumps up, and as we walk out of the room, she says, ‘see all my loony friends? it’s a loony bin in here’.  Sigh.  I’m a little offended at her words, yet I know what I, myself, was thinking.  I didn’t call them loony, but…

I spend a couple of hours upstairs with Mom in her apartment.   She does do some repeating and I can see the short term memory lapses even in the brief time I’m there.  I know she can’t live on her own anymore.  I know she might not even want to — although she’d probably never admit it.  I know she is in a good place.  I just can’t get over how small her world has become.   Can she really be happy?  Can she be thriving in this environment?  Does she get any stimulation from other residents?

As I’m driving back home, my thoughts go from Mom to my own girls, all grown now, the last one finishing up college this semester.   I have 4 daughters.  That’s right, all girls.  Only one lives close to me; the others are scattered all over the country.  Could this melancholy be connected more to them than my Mom?   Maybe I’m a mess today because seeing Mom has just stirred up motherly emotions.   Has Mom mothered enough?  Have I?  I am 25 years younger than my mom.  25 years…  That isn’t a long time.   And no guarantee of even that.   My girls have been my whole life.  And to be honest, I struggle at times finding my place without them under foot.  They defined who I was: Mom.  I know all the parenting books say we shouldn’t let that happen, but, well…

We are daughters by no volition of our own, but we enter motherhood, normally, by choice.

Yet we really have no idea what we are taking on.

Motherhood redefines us.

It changes everything.

Forever.

 

 

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Fading Green Envy

I received an email from my oldest sister last week, updating me on Mom’s recent doctor appointments.  She reported that Mom is doing well, yet the doctor did increase her thyroid medication again as her weight gain and blood work are still a concern.

My sister wrote that Mom also had a new sewing project (Mom didn’t mention that when we talked on the phone).  She made about 40 pillows for the Assisted Living Christmas Bazaar.  Sold every one of them.  Way to go, Mom!

My sister’s email says, ‘Mom and I went for pedicures on Tuesday…’  Hmm… I couldn’t convince Mom to go for a pedicure a few weeks ago when I visited her.

I feel that little green monster creeping out — I’m jealous.green-monster-mara-morea

When I look back at my very first post in this blog, I wrote about wanting a new, deeper relationship with my Mom.  Even though the circumstances were terrible due to my mom’s illness, I still had the desire of my mom and me connecting in a new way.  But when Mom was with me, she was really, really sick.  I don’t think she even remembers much about being here.  She told someone she lived with me for 3 weeks.  It was slightly over 4 months!   Now, she is doing better, and my oldest sister and my mom are bonding.

Ha!  My sister gets a healthier Mom; a Mom who lives a block away in a beautiful assisted living facility (not with her).  She can pop in for coffee anytime and pop back out into her own life.

Yep, I said the monster was green, the color of envy.

I talk with Mom every few days on the phone, but to be honest, the visits to her new city have been less frequent this past month.   I could be more involved in her life, but the 3 hours on the road to and from her apartment have been a deterrent lately.  I just wasn’t prepared for the holiday season, and I have played “catch up” for most of December.  Sigh.  Children, Grandchildren, Mothers, Nieces….  there just isn’t enough of me to do all that I would like to do; be all that I would like to be.   I’m sure I’m not alone with those feelings.   I want more time…. more days…. more me.

I just got off the phone with Mom.  She sounds good.  She sounds like Mom.  I could just sit here and cry over the miracle of that.  She is thriving and content.  My green hue is fading a bit.  I refuse to spoil any of this time with jealousy.   I still have my Mom.   I will treasure whatever relationship  I have with her.  Life is short and we only get to do this once — this Mother-Daughter relationship — I want to do it right.

There are many answered prayers and blessings this Christmas season…

My Mom is still with us.

She is thriving.

She is perhaps even becoming happy with her new life.

She is reading, sewing, playing Bingo, and making new friends.

And she is no longer angry with her 4 children for moving her into an Assisted Living Facility!

As I think about all the good and positive, there is no room in my heart for ugly green monsters…

and all the envy fades away.

Thank you, Lord.

Merry Christmas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibs for Everyone

Mom is sewing up a storm.  Every other day, the Activities Director knocks on Mom’s door and has some mending for her to do.   When Mom tells me this, she pretends it’s a bit presumptuous of her, but I think she is loving the attention.  Mom has always had a love/hate relationship with sewing.  On the one hand, she loves the challenge and creativity involved.  But on the other hand, she hates the drudgery of alterations and mending.  I know the Director is probably searching out sewing jobs for Mom to keep her engaged and busy.

When I called her a few days ago, Mom said, ‘I made myself an apron from some material your sister dropped off’.   ‘An apron?  Why do you need an apron’?  Mom replies, ‘well, it’s a bib, really.  I made one for myself and everyone at my table’.   I can’t believe my mother is willing to wear a bib — even the instigator of wearing a bib at mealtime.

Wow.  I don’t even know what to say about that.

Yesterday I joined Mom for an early Thanksgiving meal prepared by her facility.  When we arrived downstairs, she haimagesnded out a few more bibs to appreciative fellow residents.   It got a little comical as Mom couldn’t remember which women had asked for bibs.  One woman got one and didn’t know why.  Another resident wanted to know why she didn’t get one.  It was kind of funny, and I think Mom will be making a few more this week; maybe everyone will be wearing a bib the next time I join her for lunch.  The dining room was overflowing into the hallway as  family members and guests gathered for this lovely dinner.   I did notice that Mom did NOT wear her “apron” for this meal.  The bibs evidently are saved for regular, no-guests-present, kind of meals.  Good for you, Mom.   You had me worried there for a minute.

Health wise Mom is doing very well.  After some routine blood work, the doctor put her back on thyroid medicine (her weight gain was also evident that something wasn’t quite right).   She has made great progress over the last 3 months, and we are happy about her renewed strength.

Her memory is still playing tricks on her.  The sequence of events and remembering recent happenings are still her biggest struggle.  She is guarded when questioned because she has caught on that those are her weaknesses.  Visits with her are taxing because she has become quiet.  Quiet is not an adjective that would ever have described my mother in the past.  She answers questions when personally addressed, but she does not initiate most conversations.

I think we were prepared for the memory lapses as we thought that was the definition of dementia, but this whole new personality change has us all a bit perplexed.  It’s like getting to know someone new.  And that’s okay.  Three months ago, we didn’t think Mom was going to live.

I have much to be thankful for this year.  So many blessings.  And the biggest and best is my mother will be sitting at our Thanksgiving Dinner table.

I wonder if she’ll bring her apron?