PLEASE NOTE: Even though this blog is now dormant there are many useful, insightful posts. Scroll back from the end or forward from the beginning. Also, check out my writer's blog. Periodically I will add posts here if they provide additional information about living well with Dementia / Alzheimer's Disease.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Finger Painted Tears

My tears flowed like colored finger paint on glossy paper. Sounds like an interesting simile or metaphor or first line of a new poem.

Today I went to Liberman at the crack of dawn, which for me means leaving the house at 9:00. Katharine, the Lieberman Art Therapist and I scheduled a session with Gregory in the Art Lab to see what he could do with finger paints.

You are reminded that three or four years ago he picked up oil painting as a new hobby, under the mentorship of Nancy Rosen ( He took to it like the proverbial fish to water (ironically he used to refer to himself as a fish who needs to be in water, thus swimming as often as he was able in the pool in our condo building.)

In the three short years he worked with Nancy he produced over 200 pieces, mostly large 25"x25" and 25"x35", and some smaller 10"x10". He had a show at the Lincolnwood Town Hall Gallery which was very well received and most recently a show at Lieberman in which most of the 26 paintings sold!

Since he moved to the Liberman Center he has continued to decline and has lost many more skills: like painting and swimming. But he doesn't seem to mind and continues to live as he always has with a calm demeanor.

I, on the other hand, was not as ready to let go of his painting. So I purchased thick primary crayons and colored pencils and tablets of paper. To no avail.

I found ergonomic crayons that you could grip with your fist and which were thick enough so as not to break under pressure. To no avail.

I discovered another type of crayon which you can "wear" on each finger. Picture cone shaped crayons into which you insert your finger. To no avail.

Still not giving up I purchased a box of tubes of finger paints and a large tray in which sits the finger painting glossy paper. Today that was put to the test.

Gregory was very pleased to see me and we greeted each other with hugs and kisses which is the usual. I told him that, "We are going to go paint. Would you like that?" He got very excited and gave me a chain of "Yes. Oh my. Wonderful. Wow."

On the way to the elevator his upbeat joy continued and I felt buoyant but also filled with a little dread that finger painting wouldn't work either. I put this feeling aside in the name of "If at first you don't succeed, try try try."

We got him into a silly painting apron and while Katharine went to look for large playtex gloves, Gregory and I reviewed the colors of the tubes of paint. He actually repeated after me for PURPLE, GREEN, and PINK but then stopped mimicking. He does that. He is good for the first few but then he "turns off."

It wasn't as hard to get him into the gloves as I thought it would be when we first began. He did not resist and that was good.

The reason we used gloves was not only because it would be easier to clean up his hands afterwards, but I remembered that when he was working with Nancy he hated it when his hands got dirty from the oil paints and she had to help him wash many times during a painting session.

At first Katharine and I demonstrated and encouraged. Then we put his hands through the motions. Then a small (LARGE) miracle took place.

He was actually focused on the sheet of paper and the blob of paint (he usually has trouble focusing but this time he was on task.) He began to move his hand around through the paint spreading it up and then down.

Next he began tapping his finger on the paper and noticed the colored design his tapping created.

He was having such a good time and he was really engaged with the process. Of course if it was you or me we would jump in at 9 or 10 on the finger painting scale while Gregory was woking at the 2 or 3 level, but he was working and that was wonderful.

Periodically we had to ask Gregory to pick up his head, or open his eyes, or refocus on the paints and paper but he really was enjoying himself and continued to be engaged for close to the entire 30 minutes.

I sobbed but didn't want to distract Gregory so turned it into a cough. I think Katharine noticed and I think she was as overjoyed as I was. We worked at this for about half an hour with pink and green and purple and blue and yellow.

When asked if he would like to paint again he definitely answered, "YES." So we have another play date next Friday. At that point I'll share some photographs of the process and the product.

Meanwhile, shed a finger paint tear or two with me at the joy of having been able to give this experience to Gregory. Celebrate Katharine for her patience and perseverance that payed of for Gregory. Thank Lieberman for being perceptive enough to recognize how important the arts are for all of their residents, even those severely at risk due to dementia.

1 comment:

  1. Your marvelous description of Gregory painting brought such memories back of how important it is to honor the person who is still there!!



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