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My Mother's Creatures - Great and Small
By Felicia Mitchell
(Page 2 of 2)

The next visit after I gave Audrey Noah’s Ark, I found she had moved the whole thing from her table to her windowsill, lining it up next to a row of stuffed animals and a poinsettia she has kept alive since Christmas. She had rearranged the animals inside the ark, putting a zebra on a step to peek out. Each time I visit, without making much fuss, I continue to look to see what new thing is going on in Noah’s Ark. I fully expect one day to see the mother lion in the arms of her favorite plush kitten, the one she likes to take on an outing to the coffee shop.

One time one of the bluebirds that perches on the top went missing, and it still hasn’t turned up. It may be in one of her drawers, or it may be in somebody else’s room since people wander into her room now and then and touch her animals. I have learned not to worry about things like that. If Audrey isn’t enjoying it, somebody else is. The bluebird may reappear when we least suspect it, like Noah’s dove. If it disappears altogether like the raven, I will take that as a sign that everything is still okay.

To round out the theme, and to give her another connection, I got a picture book about Noah’s Ark to go with the other children’s books with animals that we like to share. The zebra peeking out of the ark on the cover of this fabric book looks a lot like the plastic zebra she keeps on the front step of her ark. While she loves to point to the animals in the book, her favorite picture is the one after the page with the rain beating down, the one that shows the sun coming out and nature glowing. It is a happy picture.

Noah’s Ark may not be what every caregiver needs to give to a loved one to pass the time. The best thing to do is to pick up on the patient’s interests and go from there. When Audrey first went into the nursing home, one of my brothers bought her watercolors, colored pencils, and pads of paper. In her earlier days, Audrey had a lot of talent. We could not get her interested in picking up a pencil, although she does enjoy watching one of us draw for her, something that we do often and something that her visitors also will end up doing if she pulls out her sketchbook.

Rather than imposing our wishes (or hopes) on her, we came to learn that we need to follow our mother’s cue. Stuffed animals, and the plastic ones in her Noah’s Ark, allow Audrey to feel that she is still as nurturing as she always was. They allow her to play and to make believe and to make animal sounds. She can talk to these animals and say whatever she likes, and they never ask her to repeat herself. I have taken a cue from these animals myself, letting Audrey talk to me as much as she likes, and talking back even when I am not quite sure what we are talking about.

Of course, animals are just one part of the fabric of my mother’s new life in a nursing home which involves a number of routines. Claustrophobic from childhood, Audrey generally does not participate in group activities, but will sit in the small living room or dining room and visit with a few other residents and anybody else who walks in the front door. She enjoys socializing with people, now more than ever before. When she first became aphasic, living alone, she became somewhat silent and almost sullen. Now, past caring, she is as garrulous as she once was.

The other day when I showed up to visit, she was talking to another resident who was holding a stuffed bear with especially long legs and arms. The two of them, in so many words, had the most delightful conversation about how cute this bear was. I could tell that my mother wanted to hold the bear, and her new friend let her.

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