Mom Begins to Paint

When my mother Jean was in her early 80’s, we began to notice changes in her behavior: memory loss, increased anxiety and confusion.  As Alzheimer’s runs in my Dad’s family and not in Mom’s, I confess that we didn’t pay much attention.  In 2005, they moved into assisted living—partly due to Dad’s increasing physical frailty and partly to ensure that Mom would have the support she needed.  (She insisted she needed no support but accepted the move for Dad’s sake.)  Her memory continued to decline and we realized that the Mom we knew and loved was slipping away.

In 2008 my father­—and Mom’s devoted companion of 66 years—died. To help her pass the time, we enrolled her in an Elderwise water color class.  We were astonished to discover that when she forgot to tell herself that she didn’t and wouldn’t paint, she was really very talented.

In the first year, when she saw a flower, she painted a flower.

Next came fanciful anthropomorphism: gourds became dragons, flowers clowns.

About a year ago, as her work became more and more agitated, I began spending time with her before she painted.  The contrast was remarkable. Scratchy lines were replaced with saturated colors and animal images.

After – a painting of a banana and orange in green bowl

Now the paintings come from her mind’s eye and are nearly always perfectly symmetrical.


As she approaches her 94th birthday, she is fit and happy.  Living in real time with a short term memory of about 3 seconds, she has no memory of painting and when praised for her work, she laughs and says “that I must have gotten this from your father’s side of the family.”  She insists that her parents would laugh to think of her as a painter but we know better—she has found a new way to channel her creativity and love of life.

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