Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sketches from the Inside

I don’t like sketchbooks; it’s too difficult to burn/recycle/destroy/bury/hide your mistakes. My normal drawing kit includes a wad of A4 office paper in a clip board, and a small box of pre-cut recycled paper ATC’s.  Duds end up in the weekly recycling pick-up and this gives my muse freedom to secretly roam innumerable creative avenues.
But once a week I visit my Mom In Law at the nursing home.  Due to late stage dementia, she is mostly uncommunicative, and the utterances that she does make are either incomplete or non-sensible, and she cannot understand even a simple conversation.  She is still emotionally responsive to my husband, and sometimes responds to the dog.
To put things bluntly, an hour visit (my husbands standard—he is a very decent man) is a very long time for me to sit in one place ‘doing nothing’. I get bored.
Since a bored grumpy wife, is hardly an asset as a visitor, I decided to bring my sketchbook (mostly blank) for winter visits. It fits in a purse, and requires nothing more than a pencil. Because it is small, I don’t need a table or board, any chair will do.  Also while I felt okay about taking photos outdoors at the home, I do not do so indoors. The courtyard ‘felt’ like a public space, and any resident in the courtyard was either there of their own volition or was there with a family member. Indoors is more of a private space, and many residents (due to their level of infirmity) have no choices at all…so I hesitate to take pictures—which makes it hard to illustrate a story.
Well, here are the sketches. Mostly we sit in the large activity room. It is furnished with dining room tables, a kitchenette, a comfy couch, a piano, and upholstered chairs.  It has a cathedral ceiling finished in pine, a street-facing window wall another large window that looks onto a smaller courtyard. 
That’s Diva the resident cat on the upper left, in her favourite spot, on the couch that butts up against the wall window. She likes to sit there and watch whatever it is that cats like to watch.  On the upper left, there is Maureen, reading the paper. I like Maureen a lot, as she is very dignified and polite, and seems to have an aura of serene contentment. She has some trouble with memory, but is still very much a complete and mature person. She loves Dynamo (many there do) and always tells me about the german shepherd dog she had before she came to the nursing home. There is sadness there, because she can’t remember what happened to that dog. Did family members take it in (we adopted my MIL’s cat) or was the dog discarded—it happens. I’ve met her son, but I would never ask that question.
Lower left, is a couple that always seem to be in the ‘activity’ room when we are there. I really haven’t figured out which one of them is the resident, and which the visitor. They always seem to be deeply engaged in pleasant conversation with one another; the lady always wears a straw hat and dresses nice. We sometimes chat about ex-pets or Dynamo.
On the lower right is ‘the Piano Man’, although he claims to have never played piano before he came to the home. He says he always played the accordian, but now that he has a piano at his fingertips, he plays that, by ear. He is very good to listen to, and even his small mistakes as feels out the next song (he plays from memory, no sheet music) sound melodic.  When he is playing, it feels like some delightful magical spell is spinning through the home.  The first time I heard him play, I clapped and complimented him on his performance. I wanted him to know that he really was an asset, and a joy to listen to. Unfortunately, I only got around to sketching him after he was resting in his wheelchair.  I’m doing all this sketching as unobtrusively as possible, and from a distance, so it’s pretty ‘sketchy’.
My MIL loves birds, and at her home, always maintained bird feeders that dispensed HUGE quantities of bird feed to all and sundry.  She always called gold finches ‘yellow birds’, which was yet another quirk that disguised her dementia from us when she lived at home (ie. I have no idea when, or what year, she forgot that her ‘yellow birds’ where gold finches, because she liked calling things by silly made up names).  In the nursing home activity room, there is a large 6’ x 4’ bird cage that houses exotic finches and we always take her there to see the birds. Most times she seems to enjoy them, at least for awhile.  They have breeding pairs and nest cups hung up and in spring they have babies.  They never stay still for long, so I usually only have several seconds to observe a pose.  This is life drawing on speed.  Probably good practice.
When I’m not sketching, I’m visiting with residents, and bring Dynamo to see people who indicate they would like to pet her.  Sometimes the staff will bring one of their charges to me, if they know the person likes dogs. I’ve become a bit of social butterfly at the home, due to Dynamo’s ambassadorial duties. Good Dog!
Sorry this is long, but last spring so much happened that I didn’t want to talk about.  Probably I’m blathering to make up for all that silence, but, well, that’s enough for now.


Quiltbug said...

I loved this entry. I had an aunt in a home for many years and although I didn't visit often, due to the distance, your descriptions fit in so well with what goes on in these homes. One funny note on my aunt.............she was never very alert but every once in a while, she would sort of come out of her trance, look around, and ask me if all these people were staying for dinner and should she put the kettle on.

I miss her very much.
Thanks for the memories.

Laurel said...

I think your sketches are lovely! I always carry a small sketch book in my bag to work on when I'm waiting. Sometimes good ideas come from it. I liked reading about your new foam and gelatin prints too!!

Jennifer Rose said...

i really like the sketches :)
i think its so interesting and great how animals can bring out memories from a person and brighten their day up :) it does sound like one of the better homes to be in

kaslkaos said...

Thanks Quiltbug, yes I remember your comforting email from when all this started (at least my involvement), it seems like ages ago.
Thanks Laurel, there'll be more on the jellies too.
Thanks Jennifer, it's neat to be able to bring the dog in. I think I would have a different (negative) impression of the place and people without or. The resident pets make it feel more homelike. Diva is wonderful.


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