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Mom Has Dementia

Dementia

Mom Has Dementia, 73″X 62″, 2015, oil on canvas This painting will be a part of an upcoming exhibition at Studio C Gallery LA. See http://www.studiocgalleryla.com “Water-line: Inspiration for Change”.

I have been looking after my mother for several years and have posted quippy FaceBook updates on mom’s progress with dementia; posts being usually short, usually funny things she’s done or said. Her dementia however is now beyond my ability to manage and is not so funny anymore. Yesterday, for example, was so bizarre the retelling requires more than a tweet or FB post; it is a chapter in a book on “How to Loose Your Mind Taking Care of a Patient Who’s Lost Theirs”. Here’s what happened yesterday, but first some background events:

Mom was in a nursing/dementia facility last month for a couple of weeks while I got some rest. This facility was highly recommended and I looked forward to the time off especially after all the hoops one must jump through to have a patient admitted to such a facility: paperwork, proof of income, doctor’s appointments for orders, medical history, prescriptions filled, written needs, insurance papers, packing with all clothes and possessions labeled. The staff at the nursing facility was fabulous though the old building seemed a bit overcrowded. Mom had a roommate who regularly soiled her bed and made quite a mess, and, according to mom, messed the bathroom. There was a lingering oder in the room when I dropped mom off and the TV droned with an irritating grainy screen, laugh tracks and nonstop chatter of 60’s era sitcoms her non-communicative roommate apparently watched all day long. It made me sick to leave mom there but I stealed my emotions against her pissed-off-ness and quickly got myself out of there to avoid any begging on her part to take her back home. I did not rest easy during my at-home vacation, especially when a facility staff member called to say they had misplaced mom for a while until they found her under a table with table-cloth hiding from the nurse who mom was convinced was trying to poison her with pills. When I picked mom up I was more emotionally tired than when I dropped her off two weeks earlier. So much for respite care.

Mom has not always been a respecter of persons. Over the years I tried demanding more consideration for me and gratitude for my efforts on her behalf. A few times I really bawled her out but it never seemed to take. My “too-long-for-FaceBook post” today begins with another attempt at teaching and demanding respect from my mother who has late stage dementia. Trying to modify a dementia person ‘s behavior is a fool’s errand.

The madness yesterday began with me promising to take mom to town for garden plants and a book she wanted (she wouldn’t tell me what book it was. Never mind she can’t read anymore). Once she was washed, combed and dressed she was ready to go and ready to go right now. She also made a point of saying she did not want to live at “that place”. Last week I had taken her to a beautiful Nursing Home facility to meet the staff and interview as a place for her long-term. Unlike respite care she would have her own room in a home atmosphere with her own furniture and only 10 patients per home with a beautiful garden patio decorated with soothing chimes and colorful bird houses. I hoped to never have to take her to a “that place” but her dementia needs have forced the decision especially her chronic UTI’s that will create havoc in a dementia mind i.e. delusions and paranoia.  I have secured a room at “that place” for later in the month. I have been conflicted as to whether I should tell her ahead of time or surprise her one day taking her to her new temporary (?) home after a day at adult day care. In other words, do I torture myself by telling her or betray her by not telling her until we drive up to the facility. The later Is cruel but the better of two hopeless choices. I reponded to mom’s concern by telling her I already did the paper work and she will be going to “that place” later in the month. My words would determine the madness to come but, at the same time, sealed my emotional steadfastness that I am doing what’s best for both of us by placing mom in a home, for awhile at least. Telling her this turned mom’s smile upside down and we crossed the threshold into a three-hour snark fest and battle of wills.

I appealed to mom as my mother by saying I am tired and need a break. I saw in her eyes that she wondered, tired from what? I told her that I don’t know what to do anymore about her habitual need to wash and salve her crotch (sorry, readers, but vaginal itching and other unseemly body issues are a major part of elder care). I repeated I did not know what to do about it anymore and when I remind her of the nurse’s instructions; one being she’s drying that area out by over-washing; she insistsed we don’t know what we’re talking about. Again I asked her to have just an ounce of compassion for me and my needs. Of course she wouldn’t consider it. I told her we were not going to town unless she treat me with some respect. If she said something nice, respectful or compassionate I would reconsider taking her to town. I guess my instructions were not specific enough because I was not about to get an ounce of satisfaction. I was simply NOT going to win.

Mom has sneaked to neighbors in the past telling them I was holding her against her will or was going to burn the house down. She pleaded with one neighbor with early onset dementia to call the police on me. He did. She has also set off the house alarm and when the alarm service called to check, she cried out in the background, “Help! she’s beating me!” I’ve jerry-rigged the front door, covered the alarm button and disguised the garage door opener to keep her from running to neighbors. Yesterday, mom, now in a sour mood, wanted to go outside and check on the garden. She can’t figure out the front door so I open the garage door so she doesn’t have a melt down and doesn’t see how I de-jerry-rig the front door. Even though she was angry with me I really thought she would stay in the yard checking out the garden. While she was outside I made a smoothie for myself. Several minutes later I received a text from my neighbor. “Your mom is here.”

The neighbor tells me that mom told her I was planning to take everything out of the house to sell it, that I was going to sell her jewelry for $300. She said I was also carousing with drug dealers in that boat on the lake because they have been there for a while. I have a great neighbor who patiently tried to tell her that it was unlikely I was going to do these things. I whisked mom out of the neighbor’s house and back home but she would not come in, instead she acted as though she wanted to get into the car, driver’s side. Seeing me, she shimmied up the drive and down the street back to the neighbor’s. “She’s not there anymore,” I called out, “She’s gone to work.” Mom turned back then past our drive and on down the street. I grabbed my smoothie still in the blender container and followed her a few steps behind. She started up the drive of another neighbor. “You’re not going to their house,” I said blocking her way. “These are my friends, not yours.”

“Well,” mom replied, “when I tell them about you, they won’t be your friends anymore.” Dementia or the real mom? Like I said, not always a respecter of persons, me included. Mom had regularly, pre-dementia (?) resolved interpersonal conflict with retaliation by gas lighting via an unaware third-party. Fortunately now third-parties immediately see the dementia and don’t believe her story.

Mom “respects” my block up the neighbor’s drive. If they were home they must have been baffled by mom’s and my long silent standoff at the base of their drive with me drinking a pink concoction from a large blender container. Mom finally turns and continues walking up the street away from the house. Eventually a car drives by and she tries to flag it down. OMG! she’s trying to hitch a ride! While she steps to the middle of the street flagging the driver down, I am behind her trying to wave him off. One guy finally stopped for her. He’s confused while she asks him for a ride before I step in to say we’re okay, she’s trying to run away and has dementia.  My usual reluctance and compassion for her feelings in using the word “dementia” in her presence has completely shut down. I don’t care anymore.

Mom who normally can’t walk around the block has, by now, walked a good half mile flagging at cars and asking a guy carrying jerry jugs of gas to his car if he were a fireman. Of course he’s confused and, unlike me, humored by this goofy old woman. “No,” he says, “I’m mowing the lawn.” She wants to know where the fire station is. I tell the guy all is okay, she has dementia and is running away. Mom insists she’s not running away and parks herself in the middle of the street with cars coming in both directions. I tug at her sleeve to get her out of the road. She pushes me off demanding I get off of her. I wave the cars on who clearly are witnessing a domestic conflict and not sure what to do. I smile and wave them on carrying my empty blender container. Drivers reluctantly drive on. I make a mental note of the jerry-jug guy thankful that I have him as a possible witness to mom’s dementia induced queries in case another observer reports me to the authorities.

We are 3/4 of a mile from home and I finally offer her a trip to town if she would turn around. She’s red-faced and tired but I sure as hell am not going to flag down a ride home for her. To my shock, she turns around and heads home leaving passing cars alone. It was a slow walk and she struggled but we made it home and I told her to get in the car while I grab my purse.

Driving out of the neighborhood she suddenly says she doesn’t want to see the doctor on the hill but the one farther down. Oh, Jeez, now what? “Do you think we’re going to the doctor? I thought you wanted to go to a bookstore and garden shop.” She replies, in that oh so irritating snarky voice, she wants to do all three. I know she is obsessing about her itchy crotch right now. Last month she was convinced she had a hole in her bladder leaking urine into her bloodstream and insisted the doctor’s’ nurse (up the hill) sew it up. No can do. Mom no longer likes that doctor’s office up the hill.

“Today is Saturday,” I tell her. “The doctor offices are closed. We’ll go to the garden shop.” She’s exhausted but won’t admit it. At the garden shop the owner says it is a couple of weeks too early to plant with frost warnings still predicted. Thank heaven. For the rest of my life I will remember the garden shop owner fondly for that simple statement because I knew as soon as we got home with plants mom will insist in that oh so snarky voice that we don’t have enough and have to go back. For mom, enough is never enough. I told her we will come back in a couple of weeks (she will be in the nursing home by then) and suggested we get something to eat.

We had a glorious hour of peace over lunch at Chilis. The waitress disappeared for long periods of time but my usual impatience was overtaken by relief for the long peace. I gave the waitress a nice tip when under normal circumstances she would have been penalized for her disappearing acts. Mom was too tired to eat much and passed the offer to go to the nearby bookshop. Another reprieve as she was surely going to ask a clerk for help in an incomprehensible way, the clerk flustered with a real desire to help and after finally finding something, it will be a book we have or one she can’t read. Mom refused to tell me ahead of time what book she was looking for as I am too controlling and have to have everything my way.

Today while I write this, mom has washed her crotch at least four times in the last few hours. Contrary to the nurse’s directive, she aggressively washes like a Victorian parlor maid scrubbing the soot from a marble stair. Yesterday and today any reluctance to place mom in the nursing home has disappeared without a trace even if she spends weeks hiding under a tablecloth over a table convinced the nurse is trying to poison her. I shall not be moved and the move-in date won’t come soon enough. With the help of neighbors and a friend who has been through it, encouraging me, I am managing, sometimes barely, the madness of dementia care. My once dignified mom has done a lot for me as her daughter but right now I cant remember them.

copyright Tamara Ann Burgh all rights reserved, 2015

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Over the summer and fall last year I constructed stands for the ENCULTURATED WHITE MAN: If the Indians Had Won frames. I sometimes refer to them as shrines. You can see a number of the 14 total finished and under construction frames/shrines in previous posts under “frame construction” category. This has been more than a decades long project but I believe my evolving vision of the work will eventually aesthetically pay off. When I finished the last of the frames/shrines last Spring, I popped a bottle of champaign thinking I had reached the finish line but when I envisioned the work in a gallery setting, I realized the stands had to be incorporated into the whole work. Groan. Not finished yet.

The Enculturated White Man

Two of 14 stands completed and ready to paint.

Upon completion of the 14 stands, I believe once the stands are sanded and painted, I will be finished with this project and am ready to open another bottle of champaign. But something is unfinished in this never ending project. I had to remember the theme of the work is about Native Americans, the First Nations, winning the Indian wars, Indians conquer invaders and retain their land and home in the new America. Over the years of construction of this project, I left America behind. I had to bring America back into focus. My solution was to make US flag themed table cloths for the stands.

The Enculturated White Man

More stands ready for sanding and painting. Stands are 42″ high.

Researching and gathering samples that were necessarily cotton and/or wool and/or silk, I chose cotton gauze for the red and white stripes as it was thin and would drape well. For the blue table top I chose upholstery weight cotton velvet. I am embroidering stars in cotton crochet thread on the velvet therefore dressmaking cotton velvet would not have worked as I would need a hoop but the hoop would leave marks in the velvet. Upholstery weight velvet can be successfully embroidered without backing, a hoop or needing to be stretched. I was fortunate to stumble upon upholstery weight from an online fabric store.

The Enculturated White Man

Flags Under Construction

For the entire project I over dyed almost all of the store purchased threads and material in order to age them; knocking back the brightness. Sometimes this was a challenge. The red and white gauze flag material, for instance, is 50″ wide and 10 yards in length. The red was washed twice in hot water making sure the red color was set. I then soaked the yards and yards of material in a dye bath made from the mullein plant. The white gauze was so bright white, I soaked it in a cold mullein dye bath for an hour or so.

I am embroidering 46 stars around the edge of each table top in white cotton embroidery thread also dyed in the mullein dye bath. With 14 table tops and two pieces hanging on the wall with flags, that’s 736 stars total. The work is meant to represent early 20th century America. The flag had 46 stars between 1916-1918. I had to use skills from my old keylining graphic arts days before computers to configure 46 stars equally spaced around rectangles of varying sizes. I am embroidering the stars re instructions found on needlenthread.com.

The Enculturated White Man

Embroidered stars on upholstery weight cotton velvet.

Finished flags and stands will be posted eventually. Maybe THEN I really will be done!

copyright Tamara Ann Burgh all rights reserved, 2015

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Tassels For a Finish

My last post declared I was finally done with the ENCULTURATED WHITE MAN: If the Indians Had Won project. I lied a little. Of the 16 pieces there are six in need of some finishing touches. Half way through the construction of the standing frames, I felt the pieces needed a soft touch added to the outside to compliment the extensive needlework on the interior matted pictures. I began at that point to add tassels to the outside corners. Which meant the first few needed to be revisited with the addition of a tassel or other visually soft decorative element. These decorative elements are also meant to invoke spiritual mystical elements. Maybe my next blog will address the creative intuitive process of the spiritual in the whole project.

This blog pictures the making of the EWM_09 frame tassels. My approach is organic. I did not have a finished picture of the tassels. I wanted a skirt, body and cap. The tassels skirt is cotton DMC thread and cotton embroidery thread. The color choices were hit and miss. The finished skirts shown here are the second set as the first set of mostly pink was not to my liking. Since this frame is a Pueblo theme, I thought to make the caps from an adobe mixture. And since I live in Arkansas, my adobe mixture is an improvisation of red clay-ish dirt, sand and a red sculpting wax.

If the Indians Had Won

The frame in need of tassels hanging from the lower roof corners.

adobe mix

Making the “adobe” tassel domes: red sculpting wax, sand and red dirt. I mixed the two dirts and sculpting wax in a tin can on a hot plate. The four finished caps are to the right. Sorry the picture is blurred.

Tassels, adobe

The cotton threads skirts are attached to the tassel bodies. Again, sorry for the blurred picture.

tassels, adobe

Finished tassels. 18″ High. Cotton threads, wood with milk paint, bead, “adobe”, leather

 

 

copyright Tamara Ann Burgh all rights reserved, 2014

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Champagne For Everyone!

Just can’t believe it. How many years? 15? It has been a long long long project but I did it! A tour de force: of tenacity and endurance. But I had fun every moment I was immersed in the work. But this is it: the last piece, number 16 of 16. There are some details among some of the pieces to be fixed or added to maintain consistency, but essentially the body of work THE ENCULTURATED WHITE MAN: If the Indians Had Won is complete. Here is the last completed piece:

If the Indians Had Won

38 1/4″ X 29 1/2″ X 14 1/4″
Frame: polychrome wood and cast wood putty, wood laminate, feathers, rabbit fur, leather, beads, silk fabric, cotton cording

EWM_07c-framed

EWM_07b-framed

Wood laminate flooring and trim on the roof. Making this pattern and applying the laminate was more difficult than I expected. Actually, the whole project turned out to be more difficult than expected!

Wood laminate flooring and trim on the roof. Making this pattern and applying the laminate was more difficult than I expected. Actually, the whole project turned out to be more difficult than expected!

 

Several pieces of wood laminate in four different woods were given to me by a good friend in Algoma, Wisconsin. He is married to my very good friend and artist, Brenda; owner of the Atelier Studio. A door laminate factory in Algoma was a long important industry there. My friend, a lifetime resident of Algoma, had collected over the years the “waste” trim pieces. He gave me a collection of various woods and I designed this frame to accommodate that gift.

To view the processes, construction and finished work of the entire collection click on “If the Indians Had Won” in the CATEGORY drop down menu to the right.

 

copyright Tamara Ann Burgh, 2013, all rights reserved

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WELL, I thought I could finish all sixteen pieces by the end of the year. Not likely I can manage the last one in the next five days. The Holidays put a damper on my work and caretaking for a mother with dementia, even though I have three 1/2 days a week and some evenings, it is difficult to keep the flow. I really did want to start the new year with an enormous sense of accomplishment but I can still pat myself on the back come February when the THE ENCULTURATED WHITE MAN: If the Indians Had Won project should, in fact, be finished!

Until I can celebrate “the end” here is a look at the next to last piece finished up a couple days ago — well, before Christmas festivities needed attending to (before that, Christmas decorating, before that my mother’s 91st birthday to celebrate, and before that Thanksgiving shopping, food prep, dishes . . . oy! too, too much!).

Here is number 15 of 16. The feathers I found among oak forest here in NW Arkansas while walking my dog. The reddish brown are probably from a Red-Tail Hawk and the black and white from a Cooper’s Hawk. The white weasel tails I have had since the 70’s when I lived with my Aunt and Uncle in the Alaskan arctic village of Golovin (my father’s birthplace). While living with my relatives in Alaska, I learned quite a lot about subsistence living including trapping squirrels (for food and making parky’s/parkas). During the winter my aunt stored moose meat in a shed with easy access by weasels. I had learned in the fall to trap and skin squirrels and thought I would try a hand at the weasels getting into the moose meat. I trapped and skinned the few I caught and saved the furs for all these years finally to become a part of this project. For more on my life with relatives in Golovin, go to the “My Eskimo Family” category.

If the Indians Had Won

Frame front: milk paint on wood, feathers, leather, beads, bone, silk fabric and thread, wool yarn, tin cones, felt
41 1/4″ X 23 1/2″ X 14″

The feathers mounted on the back of this frame is an intact grouse tail. Though much, if not most, of the natural materials for the entire THE ENCULTURATED WHITE MAN: If the Indians Had Won project were gathered by me in the wild, this grouse tail feather/s) I purchased at a booth at the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque in 2003.

If the Indians Had Won

Frame back: milk paint on wood, feathers, leather, beads, bone, silk fabric and thread, wool yarn, tin cones, felt
41 1/4″ X 23 1/2″ X 14″

If the Indians Had Won

Frame side: milk paint on wood, feathers, leather, beads, bone, silk fabric and thread, wool yarn, tin cones, felt
41 1/4″ X 23 1/2″ X 14″

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It took three months but the 14th (labeled EWM_11) THE ENCULTURATED WHITE MAN: If the Indians Had Won frame is finished. Some pieces seem to flow with a rhythm and some just take their own sweet time no matter how I push it along. This frame also took on a life of its own ending up in a place I had not initially envisioned.  For one, it finished up much larger than intended. Also, the summer was interrupted several weeks in a row due to a camper breakdown in Ft. Collins (long story), too hot and humid to work outside, and caretaker responsibilities.  I recently attended an artist lecture where the artist claimed to have a catalogue of some 950 pieces.  unbelievable. I am sure he has someone to cook for him, clean for him, do the laundry and grocery shopping, doesn’t or never has cared for an elder parent . . . Anyway . . . . mustn’t spit out sour grapes.

Fortunately, I did have a glorious uninterrupted 8 days in Algoma, WI at my good artist friend’s, Bren Sibilsky,  Atelier Sculpture Studio where I was able to accomplish quite a bit.

Atelier Studio, Algoma, WI

My good friend, sculptor Bren Sibilsky, in Algoma, WI

AtelierStudio_frame

The raw construction. My Einstein hairdo — geniuses who think alike? or just the same hair?

The scroll work is cast wood putty. They designs were taken off an antique sewing cabinet drawer of my mothers. The castings were done with 100% silicone caulking. I’ve described my silicone caulk mold making in past postings.

The finished frame: polychrome wood, polychrome wood casting, cotton fabric, wool yarn, silver foil and enamel paint

EWM_12_front, 40” X 28” X 16”

EWM_12_front, 40” X 28” X 16”

If the Indians Had Won

EWM_12 front detail, with drawer

If the Indians Had Won

Medal detail taken from presidential Peace Medals from early to mid 19th century. The “medal” on this piece says: Peace and Enculturation

copyright Tamara Ann Burgh, 2013, all rights reserved

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Bear Frame Complete

My last post (March 23) showed the process for casting bear figures in wood putty. Four bears were cast for placement on the latest (14 of sixteen) frame for the ENCULTURATED WHITE MAN: If the Indians Had Won body of work. Following is the finished piece.

If the Indians Had Won

37 1/4” X 31” X 21” frame: polychrome wood and cast wood putty, ceramic tiles, feathers, wool yarn, bear claws, tin cones, deer antler, beads, sequins, raw cotton, silk ribbon

If the Indians Had Won

EWM_12bFramed back view, 37 1/4” X 31” X 21”, frame: polychrome wood and cast wood putty, feathers, ceramic tiles, wool yarn, bear claws, tin cones, deer antler, beads, sequins, raw cotton, silk ribbon

EWM_12cFramed_blog

Notes: I confiscated the bear claws from a necklace my dad had made with claws, deer antler and leather. The claws were from a kill he had made many years ago. The raw cotton (on top spindles) are from a trip I made with my mother to SE Arkansas in September, 2011. I had never seen cotton fields before and there was raw cotton strewn everywhere along the roads. I gathered a small handful wishing now I had collected more. I tied the raw cotton balls, uncombed with seeds, to the frame’s posts.

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