A day at a time, an hour at a time, one task at a time–that sounds like a mantra for living in the present moment. It is also the mantra for handling caregiving. And even more, a mantra for remembering how caregiving can enrich by finding in the span of the day one hour, even one hour, of an activity that can be fun.
A few months ago, I thought ‘playing’ was for kids, but then I realized playing is also a way of improving (or at least retaining) cognitive skills, so I got my mother a few games. Simple ones, colorful ones.
My aim was to use games to instruct her and help her retain her cognitive abilities. Each time she fumbled over a wrong choice, or took “too much” time, I felt impatient. When, on a particular day, she was unable to finish a game she had managed earlier, I felt disheartened, and so did she. When a deterioration continued across days, I despaired.
But one day, instead of focusing on her progress, I watched her expression–the intense attempt at concentration, the fleeting smile of delight, the puzzlement–and that day, I changed my focus of this game-playing activity. I began seeing it as something that could help her feel cheerful and good about herself, and well, why not? She has enough dealt out to her by life that works the other way. A day for her is full of so many small failures–failures to remember words, phrases, failures to ‘tell’ in time and cause smelly accidents, failures to even remember her name. If she can smile because she can pieces together a simple jigsaw, that was great.
Over the last few months, I have slowly got her a set of games she likes. It amazes and delights me to see how she manages to enjoy the same game day after day, with that same sense of wide-eyed wonder.
Like today. We used a jar of play-doh and shape-cutters.We made stars, and flowers and butterflies and elephants, and I found myself enjoying them alongside her, not just watching her. I don’t think I have shared any fun activity with her for years now. Strange it needed her to get dementia for us to be together for one judgment-free relaxed hour a day.
Some activities can be fun, you know, if you don’t get too serious about winning and being correct and improving and learning. They can be full of laughter that bubbles inside the heart, and colors. Not every day, maybe. Not every activity. But some, sometimes. And that is a great starting point.
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