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

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Sometimes There Is No Air

Graves Disease.  Hyperthyroidism.  Both very treatable.  Both easily identifiable.  Both missed.  Wow.  My mother has been sick for months, really really sick, like the close-to-death kind of sick.  And the whole time, it was something that they missed.  I don’t even know what to say.  How does that happen?   And the doctors are shocked as well.  They are being open and honest with us, saying things like, ‘we missed it’, ‘checking thyroid is standard procedure’, ‘I feel like an idiot’.  Yes, a doctor actually said that.   This was all avoidable.  Her thyroid numbers were off as far back as May 2013, and no one followed through with that report.  14 months.  Wow.

So the good news is, Mom is going to get better.  She is already so much better.  That is wonderful and we feel blessed.  We sincerely thought we’d be burying her before summer’s end.  All signs point to another chance.  She has been given more time.

The bad news is she won’t be content here.  We’ve been through this before.  Every time her health improves.  Same story.  And I don’t blame her.  She had an active life she loved.  She wants her life back.  And who knows, maybe she’ll get it back… time will tell.

I called my sibs together today for another family meeting.  Mom was so sick 6 weeks ago when we met, she doesn’t even recall that conversation or any of the decisions made during the meeting.  Her lease is up at the end of the month.  We need to move ahead packing and storing, and I need some reinforcements before I forge ahead.  Even though Mom seems to be on the path to recovery, she will not be able to live alone for months.  She has already paid five months rent for an apartment that no one is living in.  The lease is up, the apartment has to go.

We talked in circles — the dementia rearing its ugly head — but she did, in the end, agree about the apartment.  I will get supplies and begin packing evenings this week.  I wonder how much of the conversation she’ll remember, and how much of it will be twisted and repeated incorrectly.   She has already had one phone call from a friend — 10 minutes after everyone left — and many details were skewed already.  It is sad.

And so I’m struggling right now.  Feeling sorry for myself.  My sibs have left — all to their different Sunday evening activities, and I’m here at home — with Mom.  Even my husband and daughter flew the coop.  (After the tense afternoon meeting, my husband decided it was a good time to power wash the house — anything to get outside).

Mom is mobile, and we can get out.  But frankly, we’re kind of tired of each other.  We’re both well-mannered enough to remain cool, calm and collected.   We’re both kind and considerate to each other.  But I want out of the house to do something else.  And so does she.

I did go out to eat with my husband earlier today, well, my husband…. and my mom.  My mother is always here.  Around every corner.   And I know some day, I will not be able to say that.  She will be gone.  Guilt.  But it’s like a new mother with that toddler.  She loves him more than life itself, but he is always there.  No escape.  The days are long and monotonous.  I’m sure that is exactly how my mom feels too.  I am always here.  She never has any privacy.  She never has a minute to herself.  We just need air.  Sometimes there is no air.

We are buggy.

We need a break.

I am reading a book on listing good things.  Remembering and counting.  Practice.  Practice thankfulness.

I am thankful for the time I’ve had with my mother.  I am thankful for the lessons being learned as I care for her.  I’m thankful for the relationship she has developed with my grandchildren, and the fact that they will remember GG.  I’m thankful for a husband who has been kind and generous to his mother-in-law.  I’m thankful for Mom’s second chance at life.  I am thankful for the health, strength and time I have to invest in my mother.

I am feeling a little blue,  sorry for me, but I know God is faithful.  I know He is good.  And He is working all this out to His glory.

Today is just a bump in the road on this journey with my mom.

Tomorrow we will be fine.

It’s all good, and we will be okay.

Everyone has moments, or days, when they just feel overwhelmed with what’s on their plate, right?  Practice. Practice.

its all good

 

 

 

 

 

What Are Those Pills For?

I think I am seeing some improvement in Mom remembering details and the sequence of events.  Just little things here and there.   I don’t know if the new “memory” medicine is helping or if she is just recovering from being so sick in December, and things have settled back into a routine.

We had two doctor appointments today.  The first one was with her Cardiologist.  He was pleased with her progress.  Blood pressure, oxygen levels, pulse, and heart rate all passed with flying colors.  He declared her ‘stable’.  Yay!  In fact, he doesn’t need to see her for six months.  Good news.  Really good news, and we are feeling great when we leave and head to lunch.

Mom doesn’t want to eat.  She doesn’t even want to see a menu.  She just orders the soup of the day, not even caring what the “soup of the day” is.   She forces it down — no crackers, no bread.  This has been going on for a month now.  No appetite at all.  And bouts of diarrhea.  She has been elated with her weight loss, however, I am not.  Even though, yes, she could stand to lose a few pounds, I know her loss of appetite is not a good thing.

It is also while we are eating that Mom shows signs of the disease again.  I answer several questions 2 or 3 times each.  She has already forgotten that we have another doctor appointment today.  ‘Where are we going?’  And she tells me a story that I have already heard a dozen times.

Mixed emotions.  Oh, Mom….

I keep my grandchildren 2 days a week while my daughter works.  I love knowing them intimately and taking care of their needs.   I want to remember that these two care-giving relationships are not the same. I want to help nurture and train these sweet babies.  But with Mom, while I want to help and care for her, I don’t want to patronize her and “talk down” to her.  I want to respect her.  I want to keep learning from her … everything I can.  And I want to be patient and kind.  Please don’t let me be short with her.  Help me to listen intently to every story every time.

We get settled into the little cubicle at the Internist, and we wait …. and wait and wait and wait.  Argh.  When he finally arrives, he takes his time, and is sincerely interested — and it is hard to stay irritated.

And I am right; the loss of appetite and upset GI tract mean that she cannot stay on the new medicine.  We cannot trade one problem for a set of others.  He wants to try a patch instead.  It needs to be changed daily.  I cringed at that — I wish it was a monthly or even a weekly patch.   I am pondering that as he goes on…  ‘I think she should have a bone density test, a mammogram, blood work, physical therapy, a stress test and…’.  What? Huh? Oh, yes, of course.  It takes us way too long to “check out”, and as we leave, I have a stack of papers in my hand:  prescription, blood work forms, doctor appointment reminders.  And I am a bit overwhelmed, and I am no longer feeling “great”.

One day at a time.

I settle Mom back into her apartment.  I tell her I’m going to fix her pill box and take out all those little memory pills.  I also take the prescription bottle out of the medicine cabinet.  I tuck it into my purse as fleeting thoughts of taking them myself float across my brain…  helps with memory and weight loss…  hmm….

Mom brings me back to reality and says,  ‘what are those pills for?’  And I can’t help but smile.

Lord, I feel so inadequate to take care of her.   At times, it feels overwhelming — not that she is hard to take care of or difficult in any way — but the responsibility of it scares me sometimes.  What if she falls?  What if she has a heart attack while she is here?  What if?  Lord, protect her.  Give me wisdom and insight and discernment.