In 2016, Devine Color will become a national sponsor of The Alzheimer’s Association and I plan to become a huge advocate for promoting the benefit of color in memory care. For me, it’s personal. My grandmother had a stroke at the age of 90 in 2010. She recovered somewhat — but a little part of her had died. I knew it the minute I saw it.
We had always, and I mean always, looked at each other during certain awkward moments and our eyes spoke on our behalf. We would acknowledge whatever it was we thought was funny and we would begin to laugh. I am talking the kind of laugh that was deep, rich, warm, and soulful. The best part of this laugh was that we didn't need to speak — it was a connection beyond words.
Several months after her stroke, I was visiting her at my mom’s house when a moment came up. One of those moments we would have been eager to share. I looked for her gaze and she looked back at me with a blank stare. That’s when I knew that a part of her was gone. The one part that was the most intimate and personal in our relationship, had truly disappeared.
A year later, my grandmother had another stroke, and this time I knew she would not recover. After 3 months in a local assisted living rehabilitation facility, she died.
The week she died I was on my way to LA to spend New Years Eve with my husband and kids. I stopped to see her on December 29th. At that point she was in the hospital and had not opened her eyes in weeks. I sat beside her on her bed and told her that I was going to LA for New Years Eve, but that I would be back.
She suddenly opened her eyes, WIDE open. She looked at me and for the first time in over a year I could read her mind. Her eyes clearly said, “Que Dios Te Bendiga”. This was a phrase she always said to me, like a mantra, right before I walked out the door, hung up the phone, or left on a trip. It means “May God Bless you”. I started to cry uncontrollably. I told her that I knew what she was saying. Her eyes once again revealed that she understood. I kissed her and walked away feeling both relieved and sad.
Right after, my mother tells me, she closed her eyes and never opened them again. She died January 1, 2012. I was at the beach late that afternoon when I got the call.
My grandmother and I shared not only a sense of humor but also a love of color and fashion. I express my love of color through paints and she expressed it through fabric. As a matter of fact (for those of you who can remember), the old Devine Color paint cans used to say, “Goes on like yogurt and looks like Chiffon,” a tongue-in-cheek homage to her passion for sewing. She loved sewing because she loved color.
I remember the peach nectarine dress with gold trim and pearl accents she made for my school musical pageant. I was the best looking violin ever. I remember the green chiffon dress she made me for a Quinceañera ball. But most of all, I remember the white silk dress she made me for my wedding 17 years ago. It would be her last.
She always told me that I looked best in white. And so to this day, it's still one of my favorite colors to wear.
When my grandmother had her second and final stroke, my mother and I did what most people do, we frantically searched for a rehab facility that could take her and possibly rehabilitate her back to a functioning life. This would mean that my grandmother, for the first time in her adult life, would be in an environment she had no control over.
My grandmother lived with my mother at the time of her stroke. If you walk into my mother’s house, you know she is from another country. She uses bright bold colors with abandon. I always think of my mother and grandmother surrounded in bright and beautiful colors. In Puerto Rico, beautiful color is an ageless commodity. No matter how wealthy or poor, young or old — having bright and beautiful color around you is the norm.
I had never walked into an assisted living facility prior to this. While the people who worked there were genuine, the environments looked artificial. My grandmother looked like a doll out of place. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I kept on thinking that she would have wanted to open her eyes, had the environment only been saturated with beautiful colors.
I want to bring awareness to the benefits of creating beautiful and colorful environments in aging facilities, especially Memory Care. I believe color and memory go hand in hand. Endings should be as colorful as beginnings. Color wealth contributes to emotional health.