Alzheimer's: Cardmaking as a means to connect
We made the difficult decision to move my mom into a memory care facility during the pandemic lockdown. That meant once she walked through those doors, we would not be able to see her, and we had no idea at the time how long that would last. Thankfully it turned out to only be a couple of months. But immediately I had to get creative with finding a way to stay connected with her.
I had long previously stopped calling my mom on the phone. In her advancing stages of dementia, talking to her that way was difficult. And I balked at the idea of FaceTime or window visits that her facility offered. I knew that would be confusing for Mom, and frankly I could not stand the thought of watching her struggle, or simply ignore me through a glass or phone screen.
Instead, I began making and mailing her cards.
I was not sure how much Mom still had the ability to comprehend reading, if she could at all. So, I kept things simple. No need to write a long letter she would not understand. I went the route of creating colorful, fun cards. I scoured Pinterest for simple tutorials on how to make pop-up cards and purchased some colorful paper and blank cards from a craft store.
I mailed a new card every week. The message inside would be simple, usually, “Dear Mom, I love you very much. Love, Andrea” or “Have a great day” or something similar. I made cards that coincided with the seasons...snowflakes for winter, a pumpkin or leaves for fall, a bunny for Easter, etc.
The wonderful activities staff at her facility would often take photos of Mom smiling as she opened the cards. Seeing those photos made my entire week. They told me that the other residents loved my cards as well. When Mom opened them, the residents would all look at them.
Even after Mom’s facility opened for visitors, I kept sending the cards, almost weekly. It helped me feel connected to her. I did not have an incredible amount of skill but kept the designs as easy as possible. And I did not sweat too hard if a card looked like a 3rd grader had made it.
I understood Mom might not know me or who the card was from, but the point was she enjoyed receiving it. Her lovely caregiver and staff members would put the cards all around her room on the dresser and nightstands, so she was surrounded by brightness and love.
I also found that the time I spent on the cards was therapy for me. It was like I was spending time with Mom, focusing on her, even though we were apart.
It’s simple to get started, if you like the idea of connecting with cards. I asked for inexpensive craft punches for Christmas and my birthday and sometimes would draw flowers or butterflies (the extent of my drawing expertise). You could also cut pictures out of magazines; if your loved one enjoys the beach, then maybe a photo of shells could be nice. Our State magazine is my favorite source for great, colorful photos. I used some doublestick tape and gluesticks I had around the house. Purchase a sheet of stamps at the post office and you’re set.
Alicia made a card or two, but honestly, it was mostly me. I remember all the years of sleepaway camp where Mom made sure I received cards and letters, so now I was doing that for her.
Andrea Osborne is Capitol Broadcasting Company’s director of content. She has daughter in high school and recently lost her mother who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She will be sharing her family’s journey here on WRAL’s family section.