Coloring My Life

3 March 2019

The crayons scraped across the paper, blank except for a variety of black lines and dots forming daisies and ladybugs. Red, green, yellow, blue: the coloring page slowly came to life. Nothing ever looked so beautiful to me. It was the summer of 2004, during a treasured visit with my grandma, and we were coloring together like we had since before I can remember. Coloring with her always overshadowed her dementia, which had been worsening for months, and transformed her into the Grandma I knew – a bright, vibrant woman who had a positive impact on everyone she knew.

During the first twelve years of my life – the last twelve of my grandma’s – our roles with respect to each other changed significantly. Since the day that I was born, she was my favorite guest, babysitter, and one of my best friends. She took care of me for several months when I was an infant and my mother had a serious illness, and visited frequently as I grew up. My grandma was my inspiration, and I adored her irrevocably. However, as the years went by she slowly faded into a completely different person. Her children and grandchildren for whom she had once been the matriarch and caretaker now took on parental roles with respect to her. “I married a nurse so you could take care of me in my old age, and now look where it’s gotten me!” my Pop-pop once joked. My grandma, who had spoken very little during the past few months, smiled slightly and stated, “the tables have turned.” She could not have been more right. The tables had in fact turned, and would never turn back.

Since I was so young at the time of her diagnosis, I could not fully comprehend my grandmother’s condition, so I did not act any differently around her when she started showing symptoms of dementia. The way that I treated her made everyone in my family a little more comfortable, a little happier, and a little more able to see the old Grandma. Something as simple as coloring eased the stress of the situation, provided an opportunity for my grandma to restore her image as my caretaker and friend, and allowed her to work within the constraints of her disease. We had colored together since before I could remember and now, as I matured and she deteriorated, it became therapeutic for both of us. This was one of the few things that remained constant during all the recent change.

What to some people seems like an ordinary task – rubbing pigmented wax on paper – was to me a way to reconnect with a part of my grandma and myself that was slipping away more each day. She put color into my life and played a significant role in shaping me into the person that I am today. My grandmother died on April 8, 2006, and many of my enduring memories of her are from when we colored together. She inspired nearly everyone who was lucky enough to meet her, and I strive every day to be as vivacious, lighthearted, and compassionate as she was. My experiences with her have taught me that maintaining a positive attitude and viewing people in a favorable light can change everything.

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