Snowmen, Firesides, and Bookmarks — Assisted Living Art

A Snowman picture just seemed appropriate for the first art class in January at my mom’s assisted living facility.  The roads were snow-covered and the trees glistened with ice.  Brrr.  I think we should have had some hot chocolate as well.  As Loraine took her seat, she told me her daughter had taken down most of the pictures in her room last week.  She said, “I asked her, why did you do that?”  Her reply?  “Well, Mom, they are seasonal, I took down the autumn pictures.”   Loraine must have shown some discontent over that because then she smiled and said, “she put them all back up.”   I love that Loraine and her daughter post her artwork on the wall in her room.  And I also like the look of the changing seasons displayed there.  That’s very fun.

 

My mom, Alice and my granddaughter, Aubrey.

My granddaughter, Aubrey, was still on Christmas break during this time so she was able to join us for this class.  What a great helper!  She filled the pint jars up with water and laid out all the paints.  As the residents began to paint, she hovered around me.  “Bre, would you like to paint a snowman too?”  She jumped up and down, clapped her hands, and said,  “yes!”  I feel blessed as I watch my mother and my granddaughter paint together.  Three generations of “wanna be” artists.   Four actually as my mother’s Aunt Ruth was also a painter.  Mom has one of Aunt Ruth’s pictures hanging in her room.

 

This is the class I mentioned in my last post where only 5 residents were able to join us.  As I reported, illness and exhaustion that incurred over the holidays still lingered for many of the residents.  And I’m sad to say, two of the participants won’t be joining us again.  One has been moved permanently to the nursing home wing, and the other passed away in December.  They both came regularly, and I was surprised to hear this news.  These are the first I’ve lost.   And it is indeed very sad.  And humbling somehow.   I will miss them in class.  But I think I’ll track down that “new” nursing home resident and have a chat with her this week.  She may not be able to paint, and she may not even know me — she wasn’t very chatty even in class — but I’m going to find her.  I’m hoping to find just a twinkle of recognition in her eyes.  If not, that’s ok, we’ll still have a nice little visit, and I know, in any case, she’ll brighten my day.

I’ll share a few of their snowman pictures below.  This was just an easy drawing I sketched onto their canvas boards.  I hesitated to present such a simple picture to them, but it worked out well for that first class in January as my “artists” were still a bit spent from their December activities.  They appreciated the simplicity of the little guy, and most were exhausted and ready to be done by the time 2 hours rolled away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next class, I prepared a fireside picture for them.  There were a few moans as I set the picture in front of them for as simple as the last picture was, this one was a bit more detailed.  “Oh my, I don’t think I can do it.”  This made me smile for I know I can usually count on Phyllis to be initially overwhelmed by the white board  “Oh, Phyllis, sure you can.  You’re just frightened by that blank canvas.  Here, I can help you out.”  And with that, I took a paintbrush and put a few strokes of red onto her fireplace.  “See?  Now, it’s no longer a blank canvas, just finish what I started, and then keep going.”  And she did.  Here is her picture along with her classmates.  Mom said, “This was a fun one to do.

 

 

 

 

And I know this post has gotten long, but if you’ll allow me, I have one more set of pictures to share, and then we’ll wrap up January.  I try to mix it up every few weeks so the residents don’t get bored with painting a canvas.  So this week, I printed bookmarks onto card stock.  After they painted them, I laminated them and cut them into the individual bookmarks.

Before class started, I found a woman I had never seen peddling her wheelchair down the hall.  She had stopped and was “catching her breath” as I came upon her.  “Hi, can I help get somewhere?  Where are you going?”  She sighed and said, “Yes!  I want to go to that art class down there.”  Well how do you like that?  So I pushed her into the room and wheeled her up next to my mom.  Come to find out, this woman has only been a resident for 10 days, however, she and mom knew each other in high school.  Phyllis (yes another sweet Phyllis) had moved out of the area right after high school.  She is now a widow who never had children.  She came back to this area to be with old school friends.  60 years later.  Phyllis shared some of her story with me.  Life is funny.  We do not know the twists and turns our lives will take.  Thankfully, there is always a curtain that veils our tomorrows.  Welcome back, Phyllis, I hope you find joy and happiness here.

And guess who showed up to class?  Yep, Jeannette — the one who has been longing to paint a big picture on a canvas board.   Jeannette has come to three classes, and has not yet painted on a canvas board.  Maybe next time…..   stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharon does not read, and did not have need of bookmarks. She wanted to keep her picture intake to hang on her wall.

 

Bookmark designs were provided by SandraDigitalDesigns and KLstudio15.  Thank you for making my work easier!

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.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

20151014_173050

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.

 

 

gochenaurs-4167

 

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?

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.

 

 

Dementia? Yes, but best day ever!

Ok, two posts in one day, but I just can’t wait to write.  My mom had 2 doctor appointments today, and earlier I had talked with my sister briefly about how the day had gone.  My sister didn’t even want to talk about the actual appointments, she just wanted to talk about the personal strides in Mom she saw.   After talking with her, I hung up the phone, and called my Mom.  I wanted some of that.

She was energetic on the phone and talkative as she offered all kinds of info.  “The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with me, so I guess I’m ok”.  “We went out to lunch, and were gone all day.”  “Just got back in time for my dinner”.    “There was a new woman admitted today, and they asked me to talk to her”.   “They asked me if I could sew; so I spent 3 hours sewing yesterday”.    What???  Wait?  What?    Who are you, and what did you do with my mother?  (I know I’ve said that before in a post, but hey, seriously, we are trying to figure out who this woman is).

So, yes indeed, a new resident was moving into her facility today.  The woman — and her daughter — were very distraught.  The mother was evidently crying, and when the Facility Director saw Mom walking in the hallway, she asked her to come talk with them.  Wow, bold move, Miss Facility Director!   But I guess Mom told her frankly that in the beginning she was very very angry.  And stayed that way for about a week.  But then things got better and, “I’m ok now”.    I just started crying when Mom told me that story.   Mom told me that she has good days and bad days, but she’s weighed it out in her head, and its ok.  “I probably do more things and am busier here than I was at my old apartment”.  Wow.

And yes, she did do some sewing for three hours yesterday.  Mom is an expert seamstress.  She had an upholstery shop in our home; also did some tailoring.  That facility found a gem.  I’m sure they will keep her busy with all sorts of projects now that they know what she can do.   They are evidently having a luau this weekend, and had Mom sew tablecloths, napkins, etc. to get ready.

And Bingo.  Mom is loving bingo.  Evidently they win play money.  Mom loves a competition.  And every few days, they set up a market with toiletries, etc., and the winners can spend their money on those items.  It’s a win win situation.

I am amazed.

Everything Mom told me lined up exactly with what my sister had said.

Mom did tell me some things 3 times, (smile), but I’m ok with that.   Yes I am.  Glad you’re back, Mom.  I’ve missed you.

Best day ever.

index

Assisted Living Adjustments. This. This. And This.

call-mom-on-phone-means-talk-to-mother-100250803Funny how all of her kids have a different kind of interaction with Mom.  My sister who lives 600 miles away has always had a great rapport with her over the phone.  So, lucky for her, that relationship can just keep on keeping on.   I am not much of a phone talker so that has never been how Mom and I have communicated.  The phone calls we make have always consisted of details that need to be shared.  This. This. And This.  Ok, I love you, bye.  We have always lived within “meeting for lunch” distance.  We talk face to face.

Mom now lives an hour and half away.  This lunchtime meeting is more challenging so, of course, phone calls need to be made.  But after last week’s visit, I’ve been a little reluctant to call Mom.  Everyone else seemed to have a good report after being with her, but my encounter was less than “good”.  I decided to give her a little more time to adjust…maybe a lot of time.

However, these are the new developments this week:

Adjustment #1:  my sister stopped in to see Mom yesterday, but Mom wasn’t in her apartment.  After checking at the front desk, Sis discovered that Mom went with a bus group to a local restaurant for lunch.  When they got back, Mom went to play bingo with some of the gals.   My sister found her in the Rec Room, smiling and having a good time.  Wow.  Bingo.

Adjustment #2:  Mom called me this morning.  She needs some more pants.  She told me the colors and size to buy.  I know that call sounds trivial, but this was a “normal” kind of phone call from Mom.  She sounded good.  She sounded like Mom.  It was a short call: This. This.  And This.

But I’ll take it.

‘Ok, Mom,   yes…yes…  how about you…   yes…  I’ll get them for you…  ok, I love you, bye-bye’.

il_fullxfull.327375022

 

 

 

She Wasn’t Perfect, But I Want My Mother Back

I saw my Mom today.  She has been in the assisted living apartment for about 2 and half weeks.  This is the first time I’ve visited her.  We have put 1800 miles on the car since I saw her last.  Our youngest daughter went off for her final semester of college 650 miles south of our home.   After we got her situated (on the 4th floor!!), we took another few days to ourselves, cargo van and all.

Two and half weeks seems like a long time.

I had high expectations.  After a rough start to last week (details I won’t go into), Mom seem to settle, and  my “boots on the ground” sister was giving positive reports.  ‘Mom wants decorative pillows for her bed’.  ‘Mom wants pictures for her walls’.  ‘Mom would like a full-length mirror’.

All good signs of “nesting”?

I took her picture frames with me.  A box-full of family photos.   I thought she would be excited to have faces to put with stories as nurses and techs walk in and out of her apartment.  She seemed pretty ambivalent.

About me.  About the pictures.  About everything.  Sigh

Resigned.

That is how I would describe my mother.  Not nesting.  Not settling in.  Not happy.

Just resigned.

I ate lunch with her — offered to take her out, but she opted to eat in the dining room.   She only said the necessary words at lunch — ordered her dinner; answered direct questions.  I attempted to make small talk with her and “her silly friends” as she had described them earlier.  seriously??

We then went to a few stores, looking for a door “ornament” for outside her apartment.  She also bought a hammer, screwdriver, pliers, and nails.  Oops.  I might hear about that from my siblings.  But what was I suppose to do?  I couldn’t hardly grab them out of her hands.   ‘Mom, what do you need pliers for?’  ‘I don’t know, but I may need them’.   She has always been a do-it-yourself kind of woman.  But pliers?  screwdriver?   Oh well…..

We got back to her apartment in time to catch a few minutes of the live entertainment for the afternoon.  A man in his early 60s, playing the piano and crooning some tunes.  He was okay, but after 20 minutes, Mom looked at me and said, ‘let’s go’.   Crept in 30 minutes late and left 10 minutes early.  Not a great impression on her fellow residents.  But again, oh well…

I took my leave at that point.  I didn’t see any point in going back up to her apartment.  I hugged her and said, ‘I love you, Mom’.  I got a hug and an I love you back, but as I got in my car and drove away, I was a mess.

Who was that woman?  That was not my mother.  And that makes me very sad.

Is she mad?  Depressed?  Angry?  Grieving?

I do believe those are the same questions I asked a few weeks back.  I just don’t know.

But I do know, the woman I spent the day with is not the mother I know.    The mother, if truth be told, who use to drive me crazy on many levels.   Aren’t all mother/daughter relationships layered and complex??

It’s not even been 3 weeks; it’s still very early.  It will take time.

This disease is so complicated.

I have cried all afternoon.  I am grieving.  I want my mother back.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Pray.

what-is-dementia

 

 

 

 

 

Four Days Into Assisted Living…

Mom is four days into the assisted living apartment…

I think about my mother every day.  I wonder what she’s doing.  How is she getting along?  I wonder if she has found a close friend yet; a friend to chat with over a cup of coffee.  Is she eating with the same people at lunch and supper?  Does she look over the dining room and seek anyone out yet?  She told us on Sunday, she was going to find the youngest man there, marry him, and get of there.  (smile)   Spunky even in her anger.  I miss my Mom.

Has she gotten involved in any of the activities yet?  Did she actually go for that watercolor class?  Or is she just watching the news and doing cross road puzzles?  I wish I knew…

My sister is stopping by twice a day to check in with her.  Today’s report was encouraging as Mom and her were able to talk without either of them getting irritated.  I heard there were some tears.  I know Mom is disappointed that life has taken this turn.  I know she is grieving her old life.  We all are.

Her new apartment is about an hour and half from my home, and I haven’t gone to see her since we moved her in last Sunday.  I thought some space would be good for both of us.  I can’t decide whether to call her or not.  If she is content and enjoying her day, I don’t want to “remind” her and fluster her.

As much as my world was turned upside down when I was Mom’s caregiver, I miss her.  There is an emptiness, and some anxiety about her being so far away.  It’s like sending your teen away to college for the first time.  All day long, you think about her and wonder how she’s fairing.  You know if she’ll just give it a chance, this new life has much to offer her; different things, but still, really good things.  But at the same time, you are grieving the loss of her —  and life as you knew it.

So I wait.

And I wonder.

And I miss my Mom.

index