In Supported Living, two groups were certain to lift the spirits of the residents, to engage and comfort them in a primal and lasting way. Children and animals.
Very early on, when we had just begun to notice the changes in Mom’s behavior, the entire family had gone out to dinner. Suddenly, Mom was not at the table. She was standing next to a table near us, one with toddlers. As she edged closer to the kids, the parents were somewhat alarmed, and we steered her back to our table. But all she wanted was to be near the kids.
In Supported Living, interaction with children and animals was a rare event. Every month or so, there would be a visit from service dogs and you could immediately feel the change in mood. Happiness as they waited for their turn to touch and pet and talk to the dogs.
Occasionally a visiting son or daughter would arrive with grandchildren. Everyone wanted to be near them but mainly to look and smile from afar, not to cuddle.
Dolls and stuffed animals helped fill the void. Joyce carried her little stuffed animal Gus with her everywhere. I always greeted him with a short “Woof!” and tell Joyce how handsome he looked. Some of Mom’s neighbors had dolls.
Mom, however, had minimal interest in both. Once, we encountered a neighbor holding a doll. Mom looked at me and said, quite convincingly, “If I ever get like that, just shoot me.”
But after Dad died, that changed. Her childhood doll, which she had had since 1921 at the age of two, appeared on her bookshelf. Later it began to take its place in the daily tableaus she arranged with her two stuffed animals. “Poor little fellow” she would say as she held it in her arms.
The other day I arrived at Supported Living to find Sue cradling an extremely authentic baby doll. She was intently caressing its face, oblivious to all around her. A little later, when I had finished my usual round of neck massages, I ask Sue if the doll would like a massage. She pointed to the baby’s feet and together, we massaged her tiny toes.
Then next day another person had the doll, with the same rapt attention and the same glow.
I think they need more dolls.