ElderSparks held two different mask-making workshops the week before Halloween. Paper plates, colored markers and soft pastels, pipe cleaners, Groucho glasses, and photographic prints served as entry points into the holiday spirit.

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A number of participants didn’t know how to begin and were in need of hands-on assistance. I was struck by how much they appreciated the help, the thrill they got out of having someone like myself — a true artiste as far as they were concerned consulting with them and suggesting designs for their personal mask. No doubt it made them feel special.

One woman, who was very agitated, left at the beginning and didn’t return ’til the end. Told that the masks were for a Halloween party the next day, B~ begged me to make a mask for her. It was time to leave but I could hardly say no. I wasn’t sure what colors or designs would be appropriate but the answer became obvious once I saw what a sweet smile she had. The hearts I drew were all that B~ needed to go away as one very satisfied customer!

This second location, with 15-20 women in attendance, marked the first time I enlisted a participant as an aide. J~ was a former art teacher who still retained many of her classroom skills. She cut holes in the masks for the eyes and nose and provided encouragement to others at her table. It felt good to give her that opportunity.

On a sad note, one of our central New Jersey ElderSparks regulars passed away unexpectedly on Halloween night. L~ was 95, a nurse by profession. Just one week earlier at mask making, she described the important role that family members and friends could play at the hospital bedside of a loved one. L~ had a great sense of humor and was very open to ElderSparks: she didn’t always understand what was happening but that never interfered with her delight. “This is far out!,” was a typical response. One thing she didn’t like though was a photograph I had taken of her: she thought its subject looked like a 90 year-old woman. When asked what age she was, she grinned and confessed to being 5 years older.

At the end of each class, L~ would announce she was moving back to her home after lunch and wouldn’t return. I told her we’d miss her, but she was always welcome to drop in if she ever found herself in the area. Sure enough, we’d see her the next week. Now, she is home at last and will truly be missed. I imagine her leaving this world in the company of happy, costumed spirits whose bags are overflowing with candy.