Monday, May 11, 2015

One Sole At A Time

Moms always have a lesson for us, even when they're almost 91 years old.

A couple of weeks ago the memory care facility where Mom resides had a "wine and art" engagement program. Residents that wanted could do some art, drink some wine, and select art pieces would then be chosen to be auctioned off in a fund raiser for the Alzheimer's Foundation.

I was visiting Mom the day of that program and left her at the conference table with a dozen other residents and the instructor. It looked like she would have a good time.

And apparently she did - I was subsequently told by the Resident Director that Mom DID have a good time, and that her painting was chosen as a finalist to be entered into the auction.

I didn't put two and two together - a few days after the "wine and art" program I visited Mom and she repeated comments about school, whether it was out yet, what classes I had taken, when I was graduating, etc. I thought the comments about school were out of left field. That she repeated the comments wasn't unusual though, because that's what dementia patients do - they repeat the same thing over and over.

But my wife is wiser than me, and she figured it out. Mom was an accomplished artist before dementia took over. In fact we have many pieces of her art adorning our house, from large abstract relief sculptures to page sized paintings.

Mom received her Masters in Fine Art from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles when my brother and I were bucking adolescence and generally getting into teen-age trouble. Much of the art in my house is from that era.

Mom's engagement in "art class" triggered a memory of Loyola Marymount and the pursuit of her Master's Degree. That's where the "school" reference came from!

The auction for the Alzheimer's Foundation occurred last week.

Visiting Mom yesterday for Mother's Day, the Resident Director pulled us aside and advised that not only did Mom's work solicit the highest bid at the auction, but that in fact there was a bidding war for the piece.

I was curious.

Then I saw a picture of what Mom painted.

by Eileen DePaolo

I was stunned. Her favorite tree - she and I admire that tree frequently when I visit and we sit outside enjoying the afternoon together.

How could a 91 year old, moderate-to-severe dementia patient do THIS?!

Something deep down inside the lost synapses of the demented brain circuit a connection was made - the talent, the skills, the vision that had resided and honed over 45 years ago surfaced and was still producing; not something one would expect from a person with severe memory issues, but a fantastic work of art.

It seems that regardless of the Disability, that there are also many levels of Ability!

I've written about Dwight Johnson before.

He's the double amputee, suffering the loss of both legs at the knees from two separate work injuries.

The cosmos didn't look kindly on Johnson for a few years...

But Johnson worked hard at maintaining a positive attitude, ultimately coining his signature sign-off, "Have a Kick Ass Day."

His travels along the workers' compensation circuit were typical: fraught with delays, fright and fear, depression, uncertainty, misinformation and non-information.

And he got to do it twice. You would think that he'd become expert at navigating the claims process after the first one, but the second injury simply opened up the whirlpool of doubt, dismay and depression even further.

Still, Johnson persevered, testament to his personality and inner strength. He worked hard against depression, learned to walk again with protheses because sitting in a wheel chair was unappealing and constrictive.

I can't say his life is back on track now; Johnson still lives with daily pain and ghost limbs. He works hard to keep a straight head, but sees life now for all it's worth.

He is quick to thank his attorney, Keith More of Santa Ana, CA. for getting him through his travails. He jokes that he told his surgeons and therapists that he's given them two times to "get it right." He is ever grateful that the folks that managed his claims did so professionally, compassionately and quickly, though he's not so sure about the investigator who showed up at his door with a box full of papers and an accusatory tone to his questions...

And Johnson can't do his "job" anymore of inspecting skyscrapers - it's tough to climb construction sites with two prosthetic legs.

But Johnson dug down deep, discarded his Disability and turned to his Ability, starting a custom shoe company, Soule Innovations.

Johnson paints shoes. He got the idea after so many questions about his protheses - rather than have people stare at the metal attached to his knees he figured he'd give folks something better to stare at: wildly painted shoes.

Tag lines for his work reflect his Ability: Walk Creatively, Changing the World One Sole at a Time, etc.

Last week the charity group Kids' Chance (California division) awarded one of Johnson's sons, Trent, a $10,000 scholarship towards college.

There are many others like Johnson. For instance, in pro per claimants, the injured workers who can not obtain legal representation for one reason or another, taking on their own cases: I see cognition and creativity despite brain injuries; I see writing and cogent argument without formal training.

Skills and Abilities where previously there was no training and only Disability.

One sole at a time...

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