Art Therapy: Working with Senior Citizens
Age and Loss
Seniors often have more than just aging to deal with. With aging comes aches and pains they never had before plus the grief of loss. There is the loss of family members and loved ones, loss of mobility, even loss of lifestyle as they cannot afford what they used to be able to. Many seniors have to deal with theft of their savings and even their possessions from family members or trusted “workers” that come into the home to help and leave with their keepsakes. There are many ways for seniors to improve their days by keeping busy and creative.
I started a watercolor class in several of the senior citizen's cites we have in this city. Every morning the seniors would gather to talk and play card games and once a week, paint. The watercolor painting became very popular as something to do that gave a product to take home. Many of the seniors talked about how their children and grandchildren had snagged the paintings they created as heirlooms and keepsakes for posterity. It gave them a sense of accomplishment and joy.
Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me, I want people to know 'why' I look this way. I've traveled a long way and some of the roads weren't paved.
I think the problem with the loss of a lifelong partner is the loneliness. The house is suddenly huge and quiet. You have no one to talk things over with and all the bills or chores are on your shoulders. My mother has been widowed now for 27 years and I often wonder how she keeps so positive. My father and mother were only 60 when he passed and she has dealt with the grief like a champion. My hero. She has found things to keep her mind and hands busy. For many years she had weekly card game appointments with her widowed sister and two widowed aunts. Now that the two aunts have passed, she spends time creating quilts and gifts them to family members. I don’t think a single child, grandchild or in-law is without one of her fabulous quilts. She even went so far as to sign them in indelible ink so that we will all remember her. I'm not sure I would be able to handle the grief and loneliness as stellar as she has done. It is this craft that has kept her mind and hands busy in this time of loneliness.
A reporter interviews a 104-year-old woman and asks “What’s the best thing about living to 104?” She said, “No peer pressure.”
There were many who painted with me that suffered from any number of forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. One particular lady was a darling woman with obvious creative talent. Every single time she came (without fail) she shared her story of owning and running her own drapery and seamstress business. She often sported a coat she created with hand embroidery of a large needle and spool of thread across the back. It was adorable. Hearing the same story over and over can be annoying to some but she didn’t remember she had told me at all. As a matter of fact, she didn’t remember having ever come to my class the week before. Each week I heard the story again, but I found her so charming that I began preparing questions to prompt her to give me more information on the story. She actually loved sharing, and I began loving hearing it again. It was a sad day after painting with me for two years when the caregiver told me she wouldn’t be back. She was going to a special home where she would receive better care.
So this elderly man is telling his neighbor over the fence about his new hearing aide. It cost him $4000 but it’s state of the art, and he can hear perfectly. “Really?” the neighbor says, “so what kind is it?”
The man replies, “It’s about twelve-thirty.”
Mrs. Haywood And Her Joke
When I was a young girl, my family lived across the street from a sweet elderly widow and her dog. My mother was quite fond of this dear widow and she would have us girls go over regularly to ask if the lady needed help with anything or to pick her fruit trees for her. Those were the days of respect. We knew her as Mrs. Haywood. I never knew if she HAD a first name because, well, it would be disrespectful to think of using it with our elders. She was always inviting us in and giving us "treats" that tasted strange. The strangest was her “sponge cake” that always seemed to be made with a real sponge, but my mother insisted we be polite and eat whatever she gave us. She had some antiques in the little garage room that we played with occasionally. Cupboards of miniature boxes of detergent and sugar and other household items. Also, she had a number of antique school desks with the ink wells and seats attached.
Every two months or so she would come over and have my mother perm her hair. When she did mom sent us out because the “grown-ups” were going to talk. She told jokes to my mother that she thought were not for young ears but were only the slightest bit blue. Her favorite joke was because my mother’s favorite color was lavender. She told the joke over and over, not remembering that she told it the last time and my mother never let on.
A Touch of Lavender
A 90-year-old lady went to a funeral home to prepare for her final resting place. All her family had passed before her and she was alone. She picked out her plot, casket, and flowers when the funeral director got to the small details. He then asked what she would like to wear in her final resting. She asked what was customary. Not knowing anything about the lady’s background, he said, “Well it is customary for a married woman to wear a lavender dress, but if she never married it is customary for a woman to wear a white dress.” The elderly woman thought about it for a few moments and said, “We better make it a white dress with a touch of lavender.”
After telling my mother this joke and thinking herself quite clever, this sweet lady always gave my mother birthday gifts with a touch of lavender. She was a very thoughtful woman and all three of my siblings and I received a card for our birthdays with a crisp hot-ironed one-dollar bill in it. I didn’t think a lot about it at the time, but in later years I realized the sacrifice she made on a fixed income giving each of us one whole dollar every year till we moved away. And to go through the trouble of ironing the dollar so it would look new and crisp. She was very thoughtful.
I love hanging around my elders. They are full of life and have so many interesting stories to tell. They love to laugh and seen and heard it all. Don’t avoid the elderly. We are all going there someday. The only way out of it is to lay down and die now!