“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
~ Thomas Merton
The art therapist shows up at our house, bumping along a rolling suitcase filled with supplies. Her hospice client, my life partner Ron’s 97 year-old mother Mollie, is slumped on our sofa, her head thrown back, her eyes closed. As forgetfulness nibbles away at her mind, her indifference increases.
“Hi Mollie, I’m Denise the art therapist.” Denise introduces herself again, even though they have met several times.
“Whatever,” Mollie says.
Denise unzips her suitcase and begins taking out art supplies: pink, red, yellow and green bolts of crunchy tissue paper, a plastic box of small colorful felt squares, hearts, circles, stars and triangles, two bottle of Modge Podge glue, and several paint brushes.
Denise settles beside Mollie, with a black piece of paper and some red and pink tissue.
“What color do you like best?” she asks.
Mollie shrugs but points to the pink. Denise paints a strip of glue onto her paper and sticks a crumpled bud of rose paper.
“Mollie, what shape appeals to you?” Denise asked, offering a purple felt square and a red triangle.
Mollie points to the square.
“I don’t know what to do,” Mollie says, a frequent refrain. Her encroaching confusion has knocked the center out of her normal confidence and rendered her nervous.
“Just sit here with me and help me make this picture,” Denise says.
Denise offers Mollie a choice between lilac and purple tissue, then sea green and dark green options.
“You’re an artist,” Mollie says, looking at the tissue flowers that have miraculously bloomed on the page. A garden is beginning. “You’re really an artist,” Mollie repeats and Denise smiles.
“Thank you Mollie. Can you take this brush and spread the glue?”
The brush shakes in Mollie’s hand but she manages to even out the glue, preparing the page for a tangerine and lemon colored blossom.
“This is art,” Mollie says.
“You like art, don’t you?” Denise says. “You have quite an art collection.”
Mollie nods. As she spreads the next glump of glue, Denise asks her about the antique shop she ran for many years and about her travels to get art. Mollie answers but she seems more focused on the page in front of her, the new art that Denise is bringing into her life.
Deborah is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.