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Art Therapy: Working with Senior Citizens

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

Active and happy elders.

Active and happy elders.

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.

Living and loving.

Living and loving.

Painting

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.


Mom, me and my sisters

Mom, me and my sisters

My Mother

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.

The ultimate selfie

The ultimate selfie

A reporter interviews a 104-year-old woman and asks “What’s the best thing about living to 104?” She said, “No peer pressure.”

Dementia/Memory Loss

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.”

art-therapy-working-with-senior-citizens

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.

art-therapy-working-with-senior-citizens

My Elders

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!

Comments

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on October 19, 2019:

Lawrence Hebb,

Thanks for the stories. I love to listen to the seniors. They are so fascinating and have lived through so much. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on October 18, 2019:

Denise

These stories were amazing! They made me think of a few things that I hope you don't mind me sharing.

When I was a child the family went to visit my Grandfather's brother over near Grimsby.

Grandad and his brothers had a pretty rough upbringing (I found out later) but Dad was an only child and wanted to know a bit more about his family.

Great Uncle John was a widower and had recently retired so we wen.t to visit He'd turned to art to pass the time, but didn't have money for canvases, so he'd used what he had, THE HOUSE!

Literally every part of the house had some kind of painting. The back door was cut in two halves and a horse in a barn greeted you as you approached, the toilet door had the picture of a Skeleton sat on the toilet!

He loved to give paintings away, and he gave Mum and Dad three paintings, one of which was a painting of the Cutty Sark, I always loved that painting. Mum knew it, and when Dad passed away just before I moved to NZ she gave the painting to me to take with, It's proudly displayed on a bookshelf

Also, one of the joys of being a Bus driver is meeting people and some of the 'oldies' are amazing.

One lady who used to get on the bus every day was 100 years old and fitter than many 20-year-olds.

This week I found out that she'd moved to a rest home, but true to form she got in trouble because she refused to use the walker they'd given her, and she also refused to slow down (you literally have to run, or walk very fast) to keep up with her!

As I said, these brought some good thoughts to me, thank you for them.

Lawrence

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 18, 2019:

Lora Hollings,

You are so right. I feel enriched. They gave me much more than I gave them, in so many ways. They shared their wisdom, their humor, and their lives with me. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Lora Hollings on August 17, 2019:

This is a beautiful article, Denise, full of heartfelt memories! What a gratifying way to spend time doing art therapy with senior citizens. You are such an inspiration. We should all share our gifts or just our company with seniors who show such appreciation for any time that we can give to them. I've always loved being around the elderly because of their wisdom, their amusing stories and their wonderful outlook on life after acquiring much experience. They can certainly enlighten us and enrich our own lives as well. Thank you for sharing these wonderful reflections.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 17, 2019:

Linda Lum,

It is so hard saying good-bye and then carrying on with life. I can't imagine how my mom or some others do it. But I do know that keeping busy and doing something that makes you feel productive help. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 17, 2019:

Mary Norton,

I am so sorry for your loss. I'm sure that it is so lonely. You have some lovely memories of trips and adventures you have shared that it is almost like he is still here. I'm so glad your grandson feels drawn to be near you and that he is good company. I wish you lived closer too. I know we are good friends. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 17, 2019:

Lorna Lamon,

Good for you working with the Red Cross. Isn't it interesting how something as simple and mundane as knitting can be so helpful for focus and dexterity for the elderly? I love knitting too. I'm hoping that means I will age gracefully. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 17, 2019:

Rachel Alba,

Thank you so much. My mother has always looked so young. It is only this year that she has started to feel her age and have some health problems. I want to keep her with us as long as possible. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on August 17, 2019:

Denise, this is so wonderful. As we age there are so many goodbyes--friends, parents, siblings, and spouses; homes and neighborhoods; health and mobility. Thank you for taking the time to add something back into people's lives. God bless you.

Rachel Alba on August 17, 2019:

What a sweet post. Being a senior citizen myself, I can attest to how hard it is when we get older. I often wonder why they call it the "golden" years? But there are a lot of wonderful things, like seeing you grandchildren grow up and giving you great grandchildren and after you and your husband retire you get to spend a lot more time together and actually get to re-know each other. You have a beautiful family. Your mother looks like she could be one of your sisters. God bless her and many blessings to you and your family.

SHREENIDHI from Chennai, Tamilnadu, India on August 17, 2019:

True that cannot be denied.. aging gracefully is an art.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 17, 2019:

Shreenidhi,

I guess it is something we will all face eventually. Everyone ages. I plan to do it with creativity. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on August 17, 2019:

You have a kind heart Denise. I wish you are close to me so I can enrol in your classes. A grandson hangs out with me regularly and I asked the other grandchildren why he is doing it when he has so many friends he could do that with but they all told me he enjoys it so I now enjoy it more. I am lucky that so many young people have supported me in the months following my husband's death. It is lonely many times and so it is nice to have them.

Lorna Lamon on August 17, 2019:

It's wonderful to engage with the elderly in this way Denise, and it brings so much joy. I became a member of the Red Cross many years ago and even thought I treat depression in the aged care homes many of our members engage the (young at heart), in painting, knitting etc. It makes such a difference to their lives.

SHREENIDHI from Chennai, Tamilnadu, India on August 16, 2019:

Your article is too good.. it is something that my parents face on a day to day basis.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on August 16, 2019:

Eric Dierker,

You are becoming a fan. I agree with you. We should be exploring our creative side at all ages and not just wait till we are older. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on August 16, 2019:

Count me in on this stuff. I am doing sand art. I am using regular salt and rock salt. As the Tibetan monks I blow it away when done. The colors of pink Himalayan pink salt and and sea salt are way cool. OK I use a little dirt from my garden. Perhaps some dried weed stuff. Mainly seaweed.

I am trying to "hire" my ex-wife, a bit older to draw a family portrait. An intervention seems scary. But we can ease into a re-figuring just by asking.

Let us create art to thrive no matter the age -- alright I admit that I am a terrible artist and use the blow away method so as to not be embarrassed like my poetry. I wonder if fun is the best cure.