Last week I had the opportunity to be a participant in a research study being done by a graduate art therapy student at Notre Dame in Belmont. She is asking people who now have, or have had, a parent who developed dementia to explore how their identity may have changed during the time they were caring for them.
She sent me a package of supplies to make a collage, (not that I needed any supplies), but to have some consistency in size for the participants. As she interviewed me, I worked on the collage. We did this interview on FaceTime, so neither of us had to travel. I had about a week to prepare; to copy some photos, and find some words.
I thought about how my emotions and sense of self changed as my mother and I went through stages of change in her cognitive function from my not realizing what was going on with her, to seeing her not caring about how she looked, to bossing her peers about their behavior, to being called “you old bag” one morning before breakfast.
I found it odd that I was struggling to remember dates when certain things happened, when they had been crystal clear while I was writing my book a little over two years ago. I made some notes with dates so I could answer questions I might be asked.
I didn’t quite know what to expect. I found that I couldn’t talk about my experiences and focus on the collage at the same time. I would stop arranging and gluing if I was talking, or I would stop talking if I was placing images in the collage.
I started in the upper left corner with photos of my parents and me as a baby, and as a three-year-old. I added a woman’s hands knitting and handicraft images because my mother enjoyed those activities all her life.
I noted that at the time my mother started not paying her bills and not remembering to go to lunch, I was becoming ill as well and didn’t realize it.
There is a photo of her with her young great-granddaughters, me and my son. A photo of her holding my cat during the ten weeks I had her living with me before she fell and broke her hip.
The stages sort of move in a clock-wise manner until the last image is of her 95th birthday, her last, at the nursing home where she lived because she was no longer able to get in and out of bed or use the bathroom without assistance.
The collage is not as well done as I had intended, but the overall feel of it is how that time felt to me. Chaotic, thrown together as best as I could. The red background represents the underlying emotion in my life as a child, and as an adult.
The bright pink pointed area is about the time she was living at my home when I couldn’t allow my anger to be expressed even as I observed her, through a window from the garden, going through my clothing and jewelry, and found the lipstick from my purse smeared all over its case.
After my mother died at the very end of 2010, I began to read about Adult Attachment from some books I happened to see at the UOP Library where I was working. In 2012, I worked with a book by Ruth King titled “Healing Rage”. Sometime after that I started writing my memoir, Looking for Connection.
In the process of reviewing the relationship I had with my mother and dealing with her as she could no longer take care of her affairs, and eventually herself, and explaining all this to another person I had never met, I became aware that I haven’t been ruminating about all those past events anymore. The underlying well of anger is gone. Does this mean that I never get angry now? No, I sometimes feel irritated and angry about things that happen, but it’s not a constant thing, waiting to erupt.
It is an amazing sensation to be standing in my kitchen making breakfast and notice that I am smiling and feeling happy.
Thank you, Lord, for your healing grace.
Meanwhile, my garden is waking up and things are blooming even though I’m still cleaning up piles of leaves from last fall.