When you love someone fiercely, sometimes you can get caught up in moments of fear, and worry about how you’d ever survive without them. I remember it happening to me when I was a kid. My mind would start racing, and I’d break out in a cold sweat when I thought about not having my mom or dad in my life. I think every child goes through that realization at some point, that eventually you’re going to lose the ones you love. Being an anxious kid, it’s a feeling I remember vividly.
When my mom was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, I felt that desperate, paralyzing fear again. My anxiety was back in full force and I felt like something was being ripped away from me that was rightfully mine. I had waves of grief that would hit me hard in the first few months of her initial diagnosis. I couldn’t fathom having her fade away into someone that wasn’t her anymore. I became fixated on thoughts of my grandmother, her mom, and my grandfather, her dad, both of them passing away with dementia.
My grandfather was a hero to me, a handsome confident hilarious man, who always had stories to tell, and I loved him fiercely. My love of the arts is so much a part of who I am because of the impression my grandmother left on me as a child. She was an incredible sculptor and artist. Her talents and skills were something I took for granted as a kid, thinking it was perfectly normal to have a grandma with a tiny apartment full of life size horse sculptures and intricate carvings spanning the entire wall of her living room.
My mom was diagnosed five years ago now, and it’s become a new way of existing for our family. Like so many other people dealing with this disease, it slowly takes over the lives of the people it affects, and the people caring for them. It’s taken me a while to adjust, and I’ll admit I’ve had times that I pull away and become distant because I don’t know how to process it emotionally. Thankfully my dad has taken on this new role of caregiver with grace and strength. He quickly became a fierce advocate for my mom, making sure that she gets the care she needs. I’m also lucky to have a husband who never questions the extra time we spend with my family to help out. It means the world to know that I have a strong support system to help me through rough times.
Something that was hard for me to see fade away in my mom was her creative and artistic spark. She got to the point where she would find it difficult to even colour a picture in a colouring book. That was when I decided to create an art project to do with her as a way to connect, and engage her in something hands on and arts related. Simple steps that involved lots of different tactile experiences and sharing thoughts along the way proved to be a relaxing and rewarding experience. The end result was surprisingly beautiful, and I found myself wanting to make more pieces. When I started incorporating some additional painting techniques, and a personal gratitude exercise into the process, it eventually developed into the My Hearts workshop, and I was so excited to share it with more people.
I’ve since facilitated several My Hearts art workshops, both as fundraisers for the Kingston Alzheimer’s Society, and as gratitude art experiences in classroom settings for elementary students. My goal is to continue offering it to small groups of people interested in an immersive mixed media experience, and as one on one sessions for people who have dementia.
A moment of artmaking with others is incredibly rewarding. It’s a special kind of connection that’s different from any other form of communication. The ability to be creative, and to be grateful for what we have in life, is a powerful tool that helps to keep you strong minded and also at peace with a lot of the uncontrollable things that happen in our lives.
I love my mom fiercely. I love her strength and her unconditional love for me, and for her family. She has made me the inquisitive and independent woman that I am. She continues to inspire me with her curiosity for life, and I will cherish every day that I have with her.
The hearts in your life are so important. Let’s celebrate them together.
If you would like to learn more about a My Hearts artmaking session, or would just to connect to share your own experience as a caregiver, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org