July 2009


We headed out for a ride in the lush green countryside, through bean fields, wheat stubble after harvest, freshly mown hay being rolled into large round bales, gently rolling hills as far as the eye could see.  The day was warm and sunny with comfortably low humidity.  We took our time as we traveled to Harveyville, Kansas, a thriving metropolis populated with 136 male and 114 female humans and at least a two cats.  One of the cats is huge, by far the largest cat I have ever seen — friendly, but as usual, in charge of the Jepson Pottery Studio.

The studio is filled with hundreds of finished pieces as well as many that are in various stages on their way to completion.  Owner Barry was busy at the wheel turning some unusual looking vases (I think), interacting with two of his four young adult children while he worked.

We had taken to him a dinner plate we purchased at a Medical Supply store. The plate is made of some sort of very sturdy plastic, functional, but hardly pleasing to look at.  It is obviously a plate for use by those with dexterity problems.  The center of the plate is about a half inch deep providing a wall against which the food can be pushed to get it on the fork or spoon.  Without that deep lip, the food often just slides off the edge of the plate on to the table or Mary Ann’s lap or the floor.  The plastic plate is very light, demanding a piece of Dycem (www.dycem.com/), given us by our Occupational Therapist, to keep the plate from slipping.

He made one plate for us to try.  It worked.  Today we picked up five more plates so that we will always have a couple clean for both of us to use. They look great.  Mary Ann had picked the colors, a deep red with an uneven thin blue area around the rim. The plates are heavy, so no Dycem is needed.

We had already gotten four of the chili bowls with handles made with the same colors.  Those bowls have sides high enough so that, as with the plates, the spoon can be pushed against the side to get the cereal on the spoon without sliding over the edge.  I had often needed to feed her the cereal especially when she got to the last one third of the contents of the bowl.  With the chili bowl, I seldom have to help. She can use the handle to tip the bowl, making it easier to get the last of the cereal on the spoon and into her mouth.

He also made us some deep salad bowls, that, along with the chili bowls, can be used for ice cream should that be necessary. By the way, after picking up the ceramics, we drove another half hour or so to stop at the Braum’s in Emporia for hot fudge Sundaes with pecans.

I recognize that it would have been cheaper to use the functional plastic plates.  It is also true that just because Mary Ann has Parkinson’s Disease does not mean the aesthetics of our environment are no longer relevant.  If anything, they are more relevant.  We have less opportunity to get out and see beauty since we are at home most of the time.  We choose to have a quality of life that is nurturing and stimulating.  Objects of beauty are not just unnecessary extravagances but are visual cues that our life together is not just a matter of getting by until we die.

For some reason, Mary Ann did not at all warm up to the idea of using one of the plates to hold birdseed and be placed on one of the flat rocks in the waterfall area in our back yard.  It would look so great!

Today I encouraged Barry Jepson to set up a small area in the shows he does all over the country, an area with items that are user friendly for those with physical limitations.  Since it is a very busy time for him, he is not yet ready to put these new plates on his web site, but hopefully it will happen soon.

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It changed my whole perception of reality.  It only took thirty minutes to do it.  Nothing has looked the same since.  “A Time to See” is the name of the educational film made by Reinholdt Marxhausen and published in 1985. 

Reinholdt Marxhausen was extraordinarily gifted in the visual arts.  He saw things others could never have seen had he not pointed them out.  There were bottles on the window sill in his kitchen over the sink.  They were just bottles — not to Reinholdt Marxhausen.  They were an adventure in light and shadows and colors and darkness, changing character at different times during the day, different times during the year. 

Alzheimer’s Dementia has stolen from him his extraordinary gifts in the visual arts.  His impact has continued in many of his students and all who have known him.  I only know him through friends and that film that made such a lasting impression on me. 

What brought the film to mind was writing the sermon for the ordination of Karl into the ministry.  Karl has been a student where Marxhausen taught.  Karl was influenced by the legacy of Reinholdt Marxhausen when he was the the peak of his ability. 

For me, the center of the legacy is the recognition that what a person sees depends on his/her ability to look past the object to its relationship with what is around it.  The capacity to really see, allows the most ordinary found items to become extraordinary as shadows and colors and shapes and textures suggest something far more than ordinary. 

There is a commonality about the story line in the lives of Reinholdt and Karl and PeterT (author of this blog).   Reinholdt has seen his ability to make art diminish as Alzheimer’s has taken its toll.  Karl’s mother died at the age of fifty.  At one point she was diagnosed with Pick’s Disease, a form of Alzheimer’s.  Karl’s Grandmother died of what appeared to be a form of Alzheimer’s Dementia.  My wife, Mary Ann, has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease Dementia. 

The objective realities in our lives hardly present beauty to the beholder, at least at first glance.  There is a painful ugliness in the world of Dementia whatever the specific diagnosis.  Karl and I have learned from Reinholdt that it is a time to see.  It is time to look at objective and sometimes very painful realities and see more than the obvious.  We need eyes to see what lies behind, above, below, and beside what we have experienced and are experiencing.  We need to see how what lies before us and around us looks from different angles.  We need to see the colors and shapes and textures, listen to the sounds of what we encounter.  We need to allow the possibility that there is more than meets the eye lurking what we have and are going through. 

There is beauty to be found, there is meaning to be found.  It can be seen if we have eyes to see.  It is often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I don’t suppose beauty really exists until we add the capacity to see it, to hear it.  If there will be beauty and meaning in our lives, especially those of us who deal with dementia, the beauty will come from within us as we look at what we are experiencing and see it for more than what first meets the eye.

My life has been enriched by taking time to really see what is around me.  Karl has seen what his Mother and Grandmother with through and has grown a gentle strength and wisdom beyond his years. 

Having said all of that, I am now struggling with finding the beauty in three hours of trips into the bedroom every few minutes to deal with one need or another, moments ago (1:30am) the need for some food, followed by the need for some water, after multiple turns in bed, trips to the commode, adjustments of the sheet and blanket and a few concerns with the wildlife in the bed.  Right now, I would find beauty in a wife finally getting to sleep!!

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

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