Friday, October 24, 2014

What Works

I. Cut the Cloth

I'm coming to see that it's important I help the people I work with to work, i.e., to be useful, and not just to do things that are merely, only, fun.

My favorite dementia educator, Teepa Snow, says living in a care center can be like being trapped on a cruise ship: being entertained all the time and never doing anything useful gets old fast.

I had a glimmer of that listless feeling from being out of work for too long---and now I feel the relief of having good work to do. I'm energized by this new job. The other morning as I was biking to work, I realized I was excited to get there! That was the day I was going to start the quilting project.

As it turned out, most people obviously most enjoyed simply folding the fabric:
cutting out quilt squares was too precise for all but a few of them, and I had to do a lot of the work or closely direct every single step, which with one of me and maybe eight of them, I can't manage.

Me (center) quilting with a couple of the most adept crafters

I'm going to keep the quilt project going anyway, because besides engaging the residents, I think it's important to help their families and friends too, and when we produce tangible results, like quilt pieces, I can see that the families are reassured and even thrilled.

That matters. In my 12 days at work, I can already see how emotionally taxed some visitors are. Their faces are like a slide-show of grief, dismay, fear, and––when they see their person doing something they can relate to––relief and gratitude. 

The daughter of one woman even donated her sewing machine to the project, when she heard me saying the kids one I got at the Thrift Store really wasn't adequate.  The residents won't be able to operate this powerful machine, but I hope they will enjoy watching me sew the pieces together while they sit at the table and continue to work on sorting and folding the fabric.

II. Smell the Cinnamon

Thursday is my one full day, so I have time to lead a baking group in the afternoon. Yesterday we were baking apple-carrot cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. Another visiting daughter ran to get her mother, who, she told me, always loved to bake.

Well . . . not anymore she doesn't.

The mother sat there and shook her head. I could feel the daughter's frustration, and, I'm sure, so could her mother.

The thing was, the daughter was using words alone to communicate with her mother, and her mother's disease is pretty well progressed, so words don't convey much. But emotions do, and the daughter was radiating concern. Loving concern, I could tell, but the feeling of it was jangley.

Based on the mother's reaction, I don't think she heard, Come do something fun.

The way she was glowering and leaning away, I think she felt something like... mmmm... maybe like the fear I felt when my father tried to convince toddler-me to get into a grown-up-size swimming pool. My fear was so acute, I still recall it clearly, though nothing else about the day remains.

The four other bakers and I were putting together the dry ingredients, and when we got to the cinnamon, I passed the bottle around for everyone to smell. Then I asked one of the baking group to hand it to the mother.

She sniffed it, and she smiled.

She never did join in the work of baking, but she did relax and continue to smile when I did things such as getting her daughter (!) to beat the eggs, and she sat with everyone who gathered afterward for tea and cupcakes.

At this tea time, I asked my fellow bakers if they had enjoyed baking.

Each one of them let me know it was only OK.

I was a little surprised. They'd certainly joined in willingly enough.

"But if we don't bake," I said, "we don't get to throw a tea party."
They all agreed with that.

Instead of dropping baking, which I thought about for a moment, next time I'm going to emphasize more that we're baking to feed other people, for a party.
Maybe it's not the most fun thing, but it's good work.


Remember the pine cone decorations we'd made?

They all disappeared. I figured they'd been thrown out or something, and I put that activity down as a loser.

Yesterday I went into someone's room, something I rarely have cause to do, to get her sweater. There, lined up on the windowsill, were about half the pine cones! This woman is a rather sparse person, not a hoarder; she must have taken them because she liked them.

My little heart swelled.


The Crow said...

I would have taken the pine cones, too, and placed them in a window where the sun makes them sparkle.

I hope, if I'm ever in a facility such as yours, that there will be someone there like you who will try to reach me and bring back a spark of who I used to be.

And if I were the person reaching out to others, my little heart would have swollen mightily, too. I am glad to know people like you exist, Fresca. You give me hope.

Zhoen said...

Maybe she got tired of baking, especially when she couldn't do it well anymore. Cinnamon is a warming scent, that was brilliant.

How about a cleaning project? Nothing too splashy, but polishing thrift store finds perhaps? Give me something to shine, and I get into a very happy place.

bink said...

those pinecones make a beautiful little set. They look like stained glass jewels in your picture. Obviously the woman still has an eye for pretty things.

Fresca said...

CROW: Thank you for that.

ZHOEN: Yesterday we smelled vanilla out of the bottle, and people loved that smell too.

Cleaning... that's a great idea---I will look at the thrift store for stuff that needs polishing.

Yes, she might just not *want* to bake, fair enough,
but what I sensed was her confusion, not understanding her daughter's words or able to analyze what was going on in the big picture.

BINK: Thanks--I didn't really see how nice they were until I saw them in her window.