Posted on January 17, 2018
February 12, 2014 Mom is 95
As I arrived today at Mom’s apartment, she was looking at photos of her and Dad—as teenagers and at their wedding. They were best friend for 74 years. My but he was handsome.
As I sat down, Phyllis, Mom’s neighbor, came in. I gave her a big hug—which she loves. Usually that’s the end of it but then she walked up to Mom and gave her a hug. Sweet.
Then the usual gambits:
I tell Mom that I intend to beat her at Scrabble. At this she pretends to cry. At the conclusion of the game, I say, “You did very well. You scored 275!” (Not bad at all. She regularly beats my sisters.)
Two beats and then she (knowing what’s coming) says, “And you got?” “474,” say I.
As she laughs, I add, “But you realize that if I win, you win. It shows what a good job of raising me you did.” (I’m always trying to mention the fact that I am her daughter.)
During the game, she will occasionally say “Bless my soul,” immediately followed by “Would you like my soul?”
I always tell her that she should keep her soul. “You will need it when you get to the Pearly Gates,” I say. “Dad will be waiting, and you don’t want to have to admit that you gave it away during a game of Scrabble.” She laughs.
I tell her that I have to go the dentist and again she laughs, adding that she and Phyllis will hold me down so the dentist can work on my teeth.
When I ask to use the bathroom, she holds out her hand and says, “That will be 50 cents.” Then she relents and says “OK, you can go for free…this time.”
My wonderful, smiling, laughing, cheerful mother. I simply adore her.
Painting of purple primroses
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Posted on January 10, 2018
For years now, I have been promising to write a book about Mom.
First it was How Mom Forgot Nearly Everything and Began to Paint. Next How Mom Forgot Nearly Everything and Taught Me How to Live.
But I never got further than the title. I was trapped in the idea of a beginning, a middle and an end – a common enough structure for the story of a life.
But I hadn’t the means to tell the story of her life from beginning to end nor her transition to a life with Alzheimer’s. That was hers to tell. I could only observe it from the outside.
Mom’s story—or that of anyone living with dementia—is in the moments, fleeting, precious, irreplaceable.
I was lucky to join her there. Even luckier, I chronicled our time together—everything she said and did in real time.
This blog is about those moments. As will be the book. So, no more excuses. Working Title: Living in the Moment with Mom. Each moment paired with one of her paintings.
And here is another moment from October 2, 2013. Mom would have been 94, her cousin Frank 93 and sister Louise 92.
We have some wonderful home movies of Mom’s family dating from the 1930’s. Mom, her sister Louise and cousin Frank—all in their late teens and all gorgeous. Mom in a bathing suit, standing on her head; Frank—seemingly always in a sweater vest and tie, boating and golfing with his cousins and uncles; Louise swimming and looking incredibly lovely and happy.
I took my computer over to Horizon House last week to play the DVD for the three of them. I was hoping Mom would enjoy the films as much as Louise and Frank, but she quickly became bored.
I’ve already done that, she impatiently fidgeted.
Ah well, it’s not about me, I reminded myself. Mom and I left Louise and Frank to enjoy the movies and she and I went downstairs to play pool.
And a good time was had by all.
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Posted on January 2, 2018
Most—if not all—of our public and private conversations about Alzheimer’s and other dementias are framed by loss and sadness. For most of us, it’s more than scary, it’s paralyzing—leaving us totally ill prepared, intellectually and emotionally, to deal with our aging futures.
The visionary Anne Basting reflected, “The ability to access to language may falter, but the imagination can soar.” In that spirit, our program for 2018 is steeped in the pluses—not in the minuses.
A second art exhibit will build on the success of The Artist Within. This time featuring six artists living with dementia with more of their work and more about them as creative individuals and members of our community.
The Mural Project will travel east to Yakima.
And I’m determined to find a gallery for Cathy Greenblat’s extraordinary photography exhibit, Love, Love and Laughter, Seeing Dementia Differently, exploring positive dementia care in seven countries.
The Imagination Celebration will be fun, a joyous opportunity for everyone—people living with memory loss, family and friends as well as those of us still on the outside looking in—to share art, music and a wealth of creative arts experiences.
Plus a few more things still in the works…
To celebrate the New Year, here are a few of my all time favorite paintings by creative, vital people living with dementia.
Mom’s Gooseneck Squash
Gloria Kinney’s Pumpkin
Jane Kippenhan’s Yellow Daisies
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Posted on December 27, 2017
This was perhaps Mom’s most unusual Christmas painting.
We arrived at the Elderwise painting class to see the model for the day in the center of the table – red poinsettias in a red vase.
What she painted looked very much like Tweedledum in blue and black with a yellow head and arms and red buttons.
This was the day I decided to take pictures of the models to document her remarkable transformations.
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Posted on December 20, 2017
Mom’s interest in painting was mercurial. She scoffed at the idea, professing that she didn’t, couldn’t and wouldn’t paint. When complemented on her artwork, she would immediately reply, “You’re crazy!” When pressed she had the best response of all, “I must have gotten this from your father’s side of the family.”
But paint she did—always interesting and sometimes remarkable. She was fast, completing a painting in about 30 minutes, never lingering, always knowing when her painting was done.
For about four months in the spring of 2015, a new pattern emerged. She would dash off a painting and then leave the class. After a few minutes—forgetting that she had just painted—she would return and ask, “May I join you?”
Not only was she having a wonderful time, she created two versions of the same model.
What is really interesting is that—wonder of wonders—she recognized them as her own and would tell me which one she preferred. Usually the last one, likely more clearly in her mind.
I had to be quick though, asking immediately after she painted. Within minutes she would revert to disinterest and denial.
But for that one brief moment she experienced pride and accomplishment.
Here are three examples with models and two versions of each.
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Posted on December 13, 2017
All her life, Mom loved the piano. She tried, with minimal success, to impart that love to her five children. Only my older sister Jeanne and younger brother Don learned and loved to play. I managed to pick out the first five bars of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen with my right hand.
But Mom always played.
In the early days of her memory loss, she still was able to read music and played the organ in her room with skill and enthusiasm. As her dementia progressed, she began to play from memory–then muscle memory. As her repertoire diminished, she settled into one fabulous medley which she played unfailingly until her death. It begins with Silent Night and then, at the same moment every time, morphs into Polly Waddle Doodle All Day.
Over the years, I took videos of her playing on my phone and here is the very last one.
Merry Christmas from Mom.
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Posted on December 5, 2017
Care-giving is a learned skill. As I look back at the early days of my journey with Mom, it is instructive to see what I did back then and what I would do differently now.
One day, as I left Assisted Living, I mentioned that I needed to go home to do the dishes.
“I can help,” she ventured. “Can I come home with you and help?” She asked twice. Yearning.
But I left. Incredibly guilty but still I left. At the time I rationalized, telling myself that I had to bring activities to her not take her away from the security of Assisted Living. Conveniently, the staff was organizing a walk but, to my shame, I think I just wanted to get away from a life I hadn’t yet learned to accept and appreciate. And at the back of my mind was most likely that dread assumption—She won’t remember.
The next day I brought huckleberries for her to help hull. It’s a wicked job—removing filament thin stems off tiny berries—but she excels at it. Plus she gets to eat the berries. She was so happy to help.
But still, if I knew then what I know now, I would have brought her home to help with familiar chores like drying the silverware and folding the dishtowels and helping set the table. Things she loves to do, tasks that would trigger her muscle memory and an activity that would be a source of pride and accomplishment. I would have relaxed. Lucky to be with her, lucky to share a mother-daughter moment. Perhaps no more than a fleeting moment but still—priceless.
This is the painting she did that week – the model and the painting.
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Posted on November 28, 2017
The art continues to entrance. Its impact is profound:
• Providing an opportunity to meet people living with dementia first and foremost as artists with something remarkable to share as opposed to a group to be feared or pitied.
• Expanding awareness of the importance of the creative arts to enrich and empower the lives of seniors with memory loss
• Encouraging the availability of dementia friendly arts programs
• Inviting the entire community to celebrate the creativity and imagination of our neighbors living with memory loss
In January we open a one month exhibition at the Art/Not Terminal Gallery at Seattle Center. It will focus on the recipe booklet, Food for Thought—Cuisine to Nourish your Brain. It features both the recipes and the art that so vividly portrays the main ingredients.
If you’ve seen the booklet, you’ve seen the art. But here are more—absolutely fabulous!
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Posted on November 22, 2017
So much to be thankful for:
I am thankful to my parents, Jean and Bob, who had a 72 year romance that withstood the tests of time and Alzheimer’s.
I am thankful that I was able to accompany Mom on her journey with Alzheimer’s—learning to relax, listen, be present—letting go of the person who was and embracing the wonderful woman who was with me now.
I am thankful that she opened my eyes and heart and mind to the truth that people who live with memory loss can live with fulfillment, and creativity and joy.
I’m thankful for her remarkable artwork and that of so many others— delightful, surprising and remarkable, their power awakened so many to that truth.
I am thankful that while her memory faded, she was distilled to her essence—generous, helpful, curious and kind, finding the world to be just delightful.
I am thankful for my father who taught me again at the end. Seeing him in his hospital bed in a state that would have left me in despair, he still lived with purpose, reminding me, Life looks different from where I am.
I am thankful for my Aunt Louise, now 97 and a WWII vet who would much rather be living in Hawaii.
I am thankful I met Evelyn and Ruby and Gloria and Flora and Jane and Sue and Phyllis and Kathleen— wonderful women all who became my adopted mothers.
Thank you Mom. You have made me a better person. Love you now and forever.
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Posted on November 14, 2017
Access to language may falter but the imagine can soar. Anne Basting
Have you heard of TimeSlips? It is an extraordinary program developed by the equally extraordinary Anne Basting. Using evocative photographs, TimeSlips opens storytelling to everyone by replacing the pressure to remember with the freedom to imagine. http://www.timeslips.org/
Last week, we worked with a small group of delightful people living with memory loss to create such a story. I think you will agree that their imaginations are definitely soaring.
With profound thanks to Mary Edwards, Mary Mitchell and Mary Adele, who are pretty extraordinary themselves.
“Double or Nothin’” November 7, 2017 Hugo House
Storytellers: Helene, Kirk, Rafe, Alice
Facilitator: Mary M
Scribe: Mary Adele
Maude and Mabel were married to the same guy.
“At different times… “ says Helene.
“They are in Vegas,” says Rafe.
Rafe said he would tell a story about them…but it is a little dicey! Hahahahah.
One of the dice is in midair.
When the dice land, they’re going to go, “Bam,” says Alice.
Or maybe they will have a soft landing with a muffled sound.
When the dice land, Maude and Mabel will be happy, because they’re going to win about $1,000 bucks, says Helene.
Rafe says $2,000.
Rafe thinks they are twins!
Maude and Mabel walked by a dress shop and decided to wear special colors. They spent a long time picking out their attire.
The woman in the purple dress wears a ring. Her husband is Saul.
He is at the local pub.
Saul’s glad not to be with them.
Alice says he’s glad they’re doing this because he’s glad they’re visiting and having a good time.
Saul supported them by giving them each $1000 to play with.
They could spend the money anywhere…craps table, slot machines, anywhere.
Mabel and Maude have never been here before.
Their eyes are wide open, and they’re yelling, “Come on, Lady Luck!”
They are twins, but they have different jewelry.
After their win they’re going to a show, to see Celine Dion.
They’re going with Saul, because they want him to pay for everything.
Saul is a rabbi and gives half the money to his place of worship.
He’s a very nice man.
Afterwards, they’ll all get something to eat and then go home.
I think the sister in red left her beer-drinking, boring husband at home,
and she won because she came for the money.
The sisters will split the money:
one’s a saver and one’s a spender.
“Come on, Lady Luck!”
“Mama needs new shoes!”
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