Assisted Living Artists Accept Whimsical Turkey Challenge

 

There were only a few moans of apprehension when my class of assisted living artists saw my example of a whimsical turkey.  “You want us to paint that”?  But once I set the canvas down in front of them, each person took a large paint brush and began to paint the background.  That’s how I’ve taught them to tackle that “blank canvas” anxiety.  Once the background is painted, it’s easier to paint the details.

 

 

Thirty minutes into class, I had to add one more table to the three already pushed togother — 13 ladies wanted to paint.  That is the biggest class yet, and 2 of my regulars couldn’t even be here.  I am excited to have a full room.  One or two men join us occasionally, but not on a regular basis.  I have some ideas for projects that might be more appealing to them.  We shall see…

 

When I told the ladies I would be gone for two weeks, Phyllis, my dramatic one, said, “Oh no, what are we going to do without you.”   I love that Phyllis didn’t give up after our first class — she is a delight.  And she no longer groans about her picture, but accepts my praise with a simple, “thank you.”  She asks me to sign her name and date the bottom of every picture she finishes.  That sounds like ‘pride in her work’ to me.

 

These women are proud of their pictures, simple as they are.  I have attempted to talk about shading and shadows, but only Roberta feels confident enough to make those additions to the outline.  That’s ok – they are happy with the finished picture and therefore I am too.

 

 

I myself have an 87 year old mother and a 95 year old mother-in-law, and often our conversations get stale as they have nothing new to talk about.  I love that this art work gives these ladies something different to talk about — something new and fresh and exciting.  I’m thinking maybe their family members appreciate the “new talk” as well.

 

 

Daisy walked by our class today, and timidly looked at the table.  She came to the first class, but she didn’t care for the activity.  “I didn’t know this is what was going on.  Someone just said, sit down, so I did.  But I don’t like to paint.”   She never came back.  And often she walks by the room, but never wants to join us.  But today, she lingered just a bit longer.  “Daisy, do you want to paint today?”  “Well, I might try one.”    She painted a turkey, using a large brush and the paint palette.  I tried to offer the watercolor markers or smaller paint brushes, but she was content to just keep adding color with the large brush.  That’s ok.  No rules here.  When I asked Daisy if I could take her picture (I always ask), she declined.  However, she did allow me to capture her artwork.  But she didn’t want to take her turkey back to her room.  “I don’t want that old thing.”  I kept it myself.  I think it’s beautiful.  Just like Daisy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Credit for this gorgeous turkey design goes to Jess Hone.

You can find this picture and other fabulous ones at: Honedoodles.

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Elderly Seniors Embrace Art Classes

This is Phyllis. Phyllis has trouble seeing so I have started outlining her pictures in black marker to define the lines. After seeing her lovely picture, the other residents asked me to outline their pictures as well.

“I turned down a birthday party invitation because I didn’t want to miss art class.”  That’s what Phyllis said as she took her seat at the table.  “Oh, Phyllis, I’m sorry you’re missing a party!  I hope it wasn’t a family member.”  “No, just a good friend.”  Oh my….

I am happy that the residents at my mom’s assisted living facility are enjoying this art class, however, I am disappointed that they are canceling other plans; they don’t have enough to fill their time as it is.  But I don’t think everyone changes their schedule for me —  Phyllis might be the exception.  She tells me every week, “I just LOVE to do this.”  And that makes me smile because the first week I came to do this art with the residents, Phyllis was the one who kept saying, “Oh, I just can’t do this.  I just can’t.”  But she can, and she does every single week, and she is always the first one to arrive at the table.  I just love that her.

 

Lorraine, Sharon, and Mary. This pumpkin and sunflower picture was a favorite, and they turned out lovely.

A few weeks ago, Lorraine asked me to come to her room after class.  Beaming, she pointed to the wall, “My daughter hung all my art work.”   She was thrilled that her daughter liked her art, and thought it “wall-worthy.”  My mom tells me (every week) that she knew Lorraine when she was a teenager.  “When I was 14 years-old, she use to walk down the sidewalk with her boyfriend, holding hands.”  I love to get nuggets of information like this.  Memories from the past.  These women weren’t born old.  They were young and in love and had babies and had careers.

 

I try to ask questions, hoping they will reminisce and indulge me with their stories.  As they painted the pie in the autumn centerpiece last week, I asked, “Who loves to bake pies?”  When Halloween was just around the corner, and they were painting pumpkins, I asked, “Did your children dress up and go trick-or-treating?”  Sometimes I get a few answers.  Sometimes I don’t.  That’s okay.  If they are quiet, I tell them a story about me, my children, or my grandchildren.  And more than once my story has helped someone recall their story.  And so it goes.

 

This is Hazel. She was also new to class and LOVED the sun catchers. She came back to paint our fall centerpiece picture. What a sweet sweet lady.

I have prepared 5 pictures for them to paint over the last several weeks.  Two weeks ago, I thought we’d do something different, so I brought sun catchers for them to paint.  I found some nice fall leaf patterns that would look pretty in the windows in their rooms.   One lady was new to class (she had walked by the previous week and noticed the beautiful pumpkin and sunflower picture we were working on.)  When she sat down, I could tell she was a bit disappointed in the sun catchers.  After we had painted for about 15 minutes, the chatter at the table had mixed “reviews” of this more tedious art work.  But most liked the change.  This new artist boldly said, “I think it’s boring.”  That made me laugh out loud.  You know, when you get to be 90 years-old, there is no need to pretend or beat around the bush.  And that’s okay.  She didn’t come back last week.  But I’m going to seek her out on Friday because we’re painting an awesome turkey for Thanksgiving.  I think she just might like it.

Sneak preview of our Thanksgiving turkey picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are a few pictures of our fall paintings.  I am so thankful I can be a part of this.  The residents are very proud of their pictures.  I am too.

But more beautiful than the art work are the artists.

 

I think Roberta has some past experience in art. She missed a few weeks so she opted to paint two pictures last week. She wears this hat every day because the fluorescent lights hurt her eyes.

 

This is sweet Mary. She is pretty quiet, but she giggles at my jokes. She has just finished her picture and is enjoying a cookie before she goes back to her room.

 

This is Sherry, but many CNAs still call her Mrs. Davis. She earned their respect many years ago… Sherry was disappointed last week because she feel asleep after lunch, and no one woke her up for art class. I wont let that happen again.

 

 

This is Oran. He is very quiet. But he paints whatever I set in front of him. He eats my cookies and stays in class until everyone is done with their picture. There was a time when someone like Oran intimidated me. But not anymore. I really really like this guy.

 

This is Alice — my mom. I started these classes for her. But I know now, God intended them for me. Mom has her own art supplies in her room and paints two or three additional pictures between classes.

 

This is Sharon. Sharon comes every week. She always has this beautiful smile on her face.

 

This is Thelma. She has been to every single class. Often during class, she sets her paint brush down and just rests for 10 minutes. Then she picks up her brush and begins again. And even though it may be 80 degrees in our room, she will always wear a sweater.

 

This is Irene. She is relatively new to class — I think she has been to the last three. I walked her back to her room when we did the sun catchers. She pointed to her picture on the window sill, and told me how proud her children were of her painting. I love that.

 

 

This is Lorraine. She is sharp and witty and very fun. When I grow up, I want to dress like Lorraine — always beautiful inside and out.

 

Just a silly painted pumpkin, but look at Mary’s face. I am so blessed when I look at this picture.

 

Their hands. No words needed….

Just A Simple Magnifying Glass

I wasn’t prepared for the reaction Phyllis had when I set the magnifier in front of her.  “Oh my!  Look at that! Can you believe it?  Wow.  I can see the detail!  Oh my!  Wow.  I just can’t believe it.”  Her response went on, “I bet can I read the newspaper now!  Look at that!  And the menu; I’ll be able to read the menu now”.  

Seriously?  It’s just a magnifying glass with a simple stand..

Before long she had all the other art “students” looking through the glass. They were not as impressed as Phyllis was, but then, they are not legally blind.

However, they were all very tickled at her reaction, and feeling her joy.

Phyllis has come to every session of this art class in my Mom’s assisted living facility, but she has struggled because of her eyesight.  She wanted to participate, and did, but it wasn’t easy.   When I left after class two weeks ago, I wondered if there was some way to make the class more enjoyable for her.  I decided to buy a small, inexpensive magnifier with a stand to help her see the detail of the picture.  I also outlined her sketch with black permanent marker to make the picture “pop” for her.  What a difference it made.  “I love this.  Thank you!  This is so much fun, isn’t it? Don’t you guys just love to do this?”

 

To prepare for their class, I had sketched scarecrows onto canvas panels for the residents to paint.  I also came across some watercolor markers for them to try. And even though I only had a few primary colors, they were a big hit, and everyone used them to “paint” their autumn picture.  I actually painted with them this time, and I used a set of watercolors.  And by the time class was over, I had paint brushes and watercolors in their hands as well to do some of the background.  

When we were almost done, Phyllis asked if she could buy the magnifier from me.  I love that.  I was very touched that such a little thing made a big difference in her world.  “No, Phyllis, you cannot buy it.  It is my gift to you.  I am thrilled that you are so happy.”

When class was finished, another resident retrieved a newspaper from her walker and asked Phyllis is she could read the print.  Phyllis said, “Oh!  Let me see.  Where is the obituary page — I only want to see who died.”  We all had a good chuckle over that.

As Phyllis turned to leave, she had one last thing to say to me, “Can I give you a hug?  I love you.”  Aww, how sweet is that?

Her apartment is only steps away from where we painted, and as I was cleaning up the mess, I could hear her on the phone,  “…she brought me a magnifying glass.  I can read the paper.”

Wow.  I am still kinda stunned.  It was only a simple, inexpensive magnifying glass.  Makes me wonder how many other residents would benefit from such a simple thing.

Needless to say, Phyllis made my day.  What a blessing she was to me!

I have been going twice a month to do art with these wonderful people. During class they asked if I could come very week. “Every week?  Well, yes.  Yes, I can.  I would love to.  I’ll see you next Friday.”

I’ve ordered a few more canvases.  I’ve found a few more colors in the watercolor markers.  And I’ll be sketching a few more seasonal pictures over the next couple of days.  Just a few simple things…

I can’t wait til next Friday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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?

No Pedicures For Us Today

I went to see Mom yesterday.  I intended for us to go for pedicures.   My sister had mentioned a couple of times that Mom’s piggies could use some attention.  Sounded good to me… who doesn’t love a pedicure?  Well, Mom, evidently.   There was no persuading her otherwise.  I tried.  I really really tried.  I texted my sister, ‘unless I tie her up and drag her to the car, there will be no pedicures today’.   Ok then.

Mom has gained almost 30 pounds in the 8 weeks she has been at the assisted living facility.  My sisters think she is feeling better and eating too well.  (I could write a whole blog about my skinny sisters, food struggles, and my weight, however, my anxiety level is high enough today)  ‘They give her dessert at every meal”.  Well, yes, but 30 pounds?!  She isn’t chowing down and bingeing on bowls of ice cream every night.  Of course, there will be some weight gain as she was down to 110 pounds, but this much, this fast, isn’t a normal, healthy weight gain.  No, I think maybe the recent downward swing of that thyroid is still playing havoc with Mom’s body.  Doctors have adjusted her meds again.    Recent doctor’s appointments have yielded praise of Mom’s rebounding health, and frankly, no doctor is concerned about her weight.  Seriously?  I’m kinda concerned… and I don’t think its the Moose Tracks.

She called me on Monday because she was frustrated with a sewing machine someone gave her.  The bobbin thread was in a tizzy.   Anyone who sews knows that messed up bobbin thread can make you crazy.  I told her I would bring my extra machine.  “I’m not using it.  I can help set it up.  I’m coming tomorrow so I’ll put it in the car right now”.  She called me again on Tuesday morning before I left.  …the bobbin thread on that machine was in a tizzy.  Anyone who sews knows…    bobbinYep,  a repeat of the conversation from the day before.  Oh, Mom.    She called me twice more as I was driving, remembering things she needed me to pick up for her sewing tasks.  Setting up the machine and filling extra bobbins of various colors was a fun, normal thing to do.  It was so good to see Mom in this setting.   It would have been “just like old times” if it wasn’t for the repetition.  I think three times, she said, ‘I wanted you to pick something up.  What was it?’  “Pins, Mom, you asked me to pick up straight pins.  See, here they are.”

I am still a little shocked at the repeat questions.  It may be something I never get use to.  How does the brain work?  Why do those recent words not stick?  I want to take her face in my hands and say, listen Mom, listen to what I say.  As if only listening were the answer.  Remember.  Please, remember, Mom.

She hears the repetition in her fellow residents…  she says things like, “they are like my Mom was…”   I just nod, and my heart is sad.  Very very sad.  Dementia is a cruel disease.  It is stealing my mother.

She doesn’t even know she’s leaving.

I hate dementia.

I fear dementia.