After returning from a presentation in Chicago at 1am and getting less than four hours sleep before heading to work this morning, I was regretting the fact that I had committed to doing a LEGO art class for the folks in the dementia unit at Collington Episcopal Life Care Community after work. I wasn’t really tired as I headed to Collington this afternoon, BUT I was nervous. The only person with dementia I have spent more than 10 minutes alone with is my Mom, yet I was about to spend 60 minutes with a group of people I may not have been able to communicate effectively with. When I arrived it was pouring rain and I got soaked as I pushed my cart filled with LEGO bricks towards the entrance. Not a great way to start!! I walked in to see my contact Abdullah waving at me from a big community room where the residents were finishing up another activity. I barely got my raincoat off before Abdullah announced that it was now time for the LEGO activity. The workers pushed the residents up to the big table where I was to work and I began piling LEGO bricks on the table. Two women asked, “what do you want me to do with these?” To my surprise, only one person at the table had ever played with LEGOs as kid or with their kids or grandkids. “What now?”, I thought to myself. So I held up two LEGO bricks, one in each hand, and clicked them together as a demonstration as I annonced to the group “today we are going to make art!” “OK”, some of them said…. I showed a few “LEGO art samples” that my Mom and I made together and they all said “ohhhh and ahhhh” and “beautiful”.
A few of them gathered several LEGO pieces and began to place them on the LEGO plates (their canvas for the day). I didn’t know their names, and though I had shared mine, I knew none of them remembered it and that was fine with me. We didn’t need names, we had LEGO bricks. Some of my new friends went along methodically in creating their art, picking out a few colors and working only with them. Others selected the pieces that were closest to them and did their best trying to attach them to the plates. Still others, very much like my Mom stated over and over, “I don’t know what I’m doing” or “I’m not good at this”, YET they never stopped working with the bricks. One woman in particular had very bad arthritis and struggled to get her LEGO pieces on her plate. She spent the hour totally focused on her project but only managed to get a few pieces connected. I was going around the room from person to person applauding their work and encouraging them to keep going. I helped them to snap the pieces together just where they wanted them. Two people asked me if I would come back because they were having fun. Everyone else nodded in agreement that the activity was a good time for all! I promised that I would return for another class. Abdullah tried to get me to sign up for the next session right away! I burst into laughter and said I had to look at my schedule first.
The woman who made the biggest impact on me this evening was the most verbal. She made a comment on each piece that she added to her artwork as she wanted all of the pieces “to look well and play well together”. What was most surprising to me was the fact that she placed all of her pieces upside down and her “artwork” was so beautiful! I commented that I’d not had any other person place their pieces upside down before, but that I loved it!! She had the perfect response too when she said “my art is just like my brain, upside down”. WOW, I couldn’t have put it better myself. Later I learned she is a PhD who did a lot of reseach at the University of Maryland.
I had been so worried about this event, YET when the hour was over and the workers began arriving to take my “students”to the dining hall I was sad. As the hour officially ended, only the two women who had struggled the most with the activity remained at the big table with me. Neither seemed to want to stop so I let them keep going. One of the women covered her entire plate with red, black and white pieces. The workers and I commented on how beautiful it was. The other woman had about 9 LEGO pieces on her board and I was so proud that she stuck with it until the very end of our time because she’d done a lot given her physical limitations.
I was just overwhelmed with emotion as I packed up my LEGO bricks to head home. I had such an amazing time!! Those residents energized me, shared their time and love with me and I shared mine with them. I don’t remember any of their names, and they don’t remember mine. YET the time we spent together and what we shared together will always be in my heart and soul. Almost all of us who have relatives with dementia worry about getting the disease ourselves.. so tonight I’ll be praying that even if I forget other stuff in my life, I never want to forget this evening.