Sau ying (96 years old) is totally blind and has lost all her teeth, apparently she loves food and would put everything in her mouth to have a taste; this may also be due to the fact that her sense of taste is still very active, and this is one of her ways of knowing her existence, that she is still here !
In the beginning, she was quite a character to work with – She would chew on flowers when we were just testing the sense of smell, once given a flower for her to smell, she would hold the flower close to her nose and mouth and would not let go. When we finally took the flower away she was so upset thinking that we were taking her possessions. (again!) She would say: “I care nothing about what you guys are trying to do, I do not want to be involved.”
During one of the clay modeling activities she put all the clay in her mouth and we had a terrible time trying to fight for the clay, from her grip and in her mouth. She got really agitated when we refused to give her anymore clay and started swearing. Sometimes she could be quite sarcastic or bitchy and sang us all those naughty songs that she remembered from her childhood. She loves canto pop which is quite rare for elderly her age. She enjoyed music and songs the most and would sometimes cooperate and do the rhythmic beats with us.
She was always alert and would hold her head high to catch any movement and sound we might make.
My breaking moment with her came the day we played with hand puppets. Singing a children’s hymn, I held the woolen doggy puppet up to her chest and swirling around, I gave her a kiss on the cheek with the puppet. Suddenly her face changed and became very mellow, she held my hand (the doggy puppet) and said, “Little Mui mui , it is so nice for you to come see me, What take you so long!”. From that moment on, her voice is no longer bitterly sour (or lonely), rather she sat there in her wheelchair, contented and held the puppet close to her heart and would kiss it once in a while. For the rest of the remaining time which is more than half an hour, I sat there close to her, my hand inside the puppet, and we would sing the children’s hymn softly. I dared not to move, not wanting to let go of the moment. Sai Ying, deep in her own memory, may be her grand daughter or may be herself….was at peace and content.
According to the care taker later, she was calm and easy going for the rest of the day. The nursing home now has a special soft toy for her to hold. She came every week to our art activities and we also had the puppet for her to play with, sometimes it is the puppet or sometimes it is our hands.
She’s happy around us now and always comments,” Oh! Your hands are so warm.” and give kisses to our hands.
Is it the puppet that ignites her memories and being, or is it the touch or the children’s rhythms, we do not really know, may be it is all of them.
I have created a painting for Sai Ying for this exhibition, a painting of her holding the puppet. But to all visitors that come to the show, they have to use a special hand puppet to gently rub on the surface of the painting, then they can fully view the art work- because there are layers of wax crayon on the surface. Only with love and gentle touch can the visitor see the gentle soul underneath in hiding.
Granny Sau Ying left us and is back with her ancestors this July, 2012.
Please gently cleanse her face and sing a song for her.