June 10, 2015

The Thing I No Longer Fear

When Clutch died, I lost my other four legs into the local nursing home.
I've already written here about the surprisingly wonderful experience of taking Mr. Congeniality here into the dementia and skilled nursing units. I no longer fear the demented elderly--in fact, within weeks of getting Molly, I registered her for the Therapy Dog International Test at the end of July. We've been working hard together so that she can earn her red kerchief, trot through those big wooden doors, and make a senior's empty eyes flash with love.

And do it without knocking over three walkers trying to nab a Milk Dud that rolled under the chair two weeks ago.

I ached for my contact with the residents but really didn't want to just wander around the halls there. Because Life works this way if you keep your eyes open, the nursing home magically put out a request for a volunteer to help with ...ta da...art activities!!
I signed on, thinking ok, I would be of service where needed until Molly got her certification. Because Life works this way if you keep your heart open, over the past two months, I have fallen in love.


This time, with about a dozen folks who come through the workshop as part of an Adult Day Care program.
They live in their homes with caregivers, they live in the homes of their children. Some still proudly flash hot pink nails and jewelery and ask why waste time with an upcoming Tea Party when everyone would rather have cocktails...
 Others sit quietly, grateful for yet another reminder to put the glue on the vase and then the paper.
Still others sit in another world. Or so you think, until its time to go and you hear,"its just that some days are not happy ones," from one who has had 93 years to learn the difference.

At first, I rolled my inner eyes at what seemed like juvenile projects. These are our parents and grandparents, not our children.  But the paints, the construction paper and pipe cleaners, and the ribbon attached to paper plate hats are just tools for maintaining--or recovering for maybe just one hour--engagement with the world. 
And they are just the prop I need for fulfilling the urge coming from somewhere deep within me ...the urge to teach myself to be with the elderly wherever they are at the moment.

With Mrs. M, when she is talking about how to make tomato sauce or how to outwit bossy daughters who feel they have the right to dress their mothers.  With Mrs. J, when she rolls her eyes and spits one husband was more than enough for me, thank you very much or with Mrs B, as she applauds a very fine mate because "he came home every Friday night sober and with a paycheck."

Or holding hands with Mr. C, who can only manage to spend the hour fighting back tears because I miss my children. Even if he cannot remember who they are.

Lest you keep confusing me with Mother Theresa, know that I never actually feel like going there. Wednesdays are my only truly free day and I run through all my excuses so I can stay at home and loosen the rein on my spirit. But  I inevitably wind up dragging my butt into the car because I just can't bear the thought that I might miss something...

...something like the day we were making hats like these for the upcoming Tea Party. 
The chatter had melted away into convivial concentration.  Out of the silence, a paper plate went on a tuft of gray hair and a small voice started singing in a faulty soprano:

"On the ave-e-nue....on  Fifth Ave-e-nue.."

And the others joined in.

"In your Easter bonnet,
With all the frills upon it
You'll be the grandest lady
In the Easter Parade."

I couldn't give this up, ever. I will just have to teach Molly how to work a glue stick.


  1. on the avenue....
    5th avenue.....
    the photagraphers will snap us
    and you'll find that your're
    in the rotogravure

    and i'll be all in clover
    when they look you over,
    i'll be the proudest fella
    in the Easter Parade.


    1. So did they. And they all were Judy Garland when they were singing

    2. PS. Did you have an Easter Bonnet? I kept hoping Mom would forget we were Jewish when April rolled around...no such luck.

  2. compassion and creativity...

    "For it is in The Simple Act of Reading where the living and the dead, the real and the imagined, meet. It is in The Simple Act of Reading where we exercise those two most sacred of human vocations: compassion and creativity. For as we know, without either of these primes there is no possibility for a humanity present or past worth talking about."
    Junot Diaz

    1. And yet it seems that we so quickly lose our ability to execute both.

  3. Those colors on the vase art project reminded me of your Pinball Jule cause color speaks of emotion, connection and can bring forth stories, snippets of conversation, song, and most of all, moments of sharing. Sometimes showing up to help turns out to be the best thing that we do for ourselves...

    1. I think the key in everything, every single thing, is to show up.

    2. yes, that in a nutshell is about all we can really do

  4. it is...show up, but then have an Open Space in your head for whatever can happen...
    these works of hands...just so tender, the placing of color, overlapping, more added,
    covering the space, seeing that you've done that...
    it takes Will and Concentration.
    Before Alz B got "voted off the island"...transferred from the Alzheimer's unit to general
    population because of unruly behavior,....i often was there during Activity Time. These
    are familiar but i must say the hats are exceptional....
    just coloring in a child's coloring book tho, the concentration, the effort to follow through
    with an urge to change color of crayon
    and how i learned not to be shy and would just sometimes sing something that occured to me or say something really silly and always....there would be a spark of recognition and
    This is just so beauty FULL, Julie. Not only for them, but for the wash of Beauty it will
    spill upon you. So Beauty FULL. I love this so much

  5. I am happy for them, happy for you and happy for me that you share it. Need more.