How to draw a mule

1 Jul

On 26 June 2021 I posted:

It’s been too long. But I just haven’t had those quiet moments when I can sit and stitch, trust me if I’d had them I’d have picked up the smock straight away.

You’d have thought that sitting in hospital with Mum would be the perfect time and place, but it just hasn’t been. I did some crochet with Mum which was quietly mindful but the embroidery is too hard for me to do with her.

The thing that gives Mum the most pleasure (tho pleasure may be putting it too strongly… contentment perhaps) is being read to. But we can’t read just anything… we read her ‘memoirs’ which she was encouraged to write some years ago by my cousin Mary. They chart her life, focusing on her childhood and then the years before she married Dad.

One memorable passage describes how she recalls being on one side of the fence, with the farm mules on the other. She had a stick and was using it in the dirt to try to draw them. She recalls that joy when she worked out how their legs joined to their bodies. This was more than 80 years ago and she wasn’t yet 8 years old.

I’m writing this almost exactly a year on from that moment. It’s been quite the year, but we are all settled into a different sort of normal now, in so many ways. So many of us refer to a new normal and for most of us, this state relates to how we are living with Covid, now the very worst of the pandemic appears to be behind us, but with Covid still very much in our lives.

And of course this is part of our new normal too. But the deterioration in Mum’s health has had (and continues to have) a far greater impact on my life than Covid has. I feel like we are in limbo now… waiting for another life beyond all this, while desperately holding on to this life too.

The more I read about dementia and how social isolation can accelerate the decline, the more I believe how damaging the first year of lockdown was for Mum. We had been used to going down to see her every couple of weeks. But immediately we stopped, only seeing her for essential hospital appointments every couple of months (and those appointments became more and more stressful). She no longer had a constant stream of friends and neighbours just dropping by. I phoned her every evening as I had since Dad had died, and she said she was fine, that actually she really quite liked her own company.

But during that year things changed. And by the end of the year our phone calls had become formulaic. She would list for me what she had done through the day, in a way that (with hindsight) reminds me of one of those parlour games. The one we used to play was The Minister’s Cat … going round in a circle we would say what the Minister’s Cat was taking on holiday (can this be true? was this really the premise of the game?)… anyway, each of us would add a new thing that the Minister’s Cat was taking .. and then the next person had to add a new thing and then add all the things that were already going on holiday with that pesky feline. My evening phone calls were more mundane than the Minister’s Cat – they generally started with her waking up, then detailed breakfast, after which she got dressed. And so the report of the day continued… in my memory she didn’t often ask about my day, though I would often give her snippets of detail about my day which, given we were in lockdown, had little of interest to report either!

But thinking back to June last year when Mum was in the Royal Infirmary. She was so very unhappy, so lost. And we didn’t know how to ‘fix’ it. There probably was no way to fix it, so we did what we could, visiting her every day and trying to find things that might give her some comfort. Her eyesight was poor and although she could still read if she used the big magnifying glass, she hardly read anything any more. I think she was unable to hold whatever she was reading in her mind, so it made little sense to her. Or perhaps she was just so EXHAUSTED from trying to hold things together, from trying to be ok, that she had no energy for reading. Or perhaps she just didn’t want to read. Because I hardly read anything in lockdown either. Not everything that Mum did was ‘because of her dementia’, even if it felt like that was the driving force behind EVERYTHING in our lives.

My friend Juliet has been the most incredible support over the last couple of years. I see that at this time she was submitting a funding bid and I had asked if she wanted me to read it. She enquired if I wanted to. And I reflected that “I’d like to think I can do something other than look after Mum”. Because really every hour of my day was consumed with caring for her, whether or not I was in a room with her. And it had been like that for 6 months for me. Juliet, being the wise woman that she is, reminded me that I know I can do other things, just that Mum was my priority just now. The reminder that this was temporary, that things would change, that I would not always feel trapped in this washing machine of emotions was helpful. It also amused me NO END that I was finally proving (to myself at least) that I could really FOCUS on one thing… all I had needed was a reason to focus!


If you want to catch up on how we got to this point, this series of posts starts here, with Taking Smock of the Situation.

3 Responses to “How to draw a mule”

  1. Neil July 1, 2022 at 4:40 pm #

    I have missed these.


    • shewolfinthevalley July 1, 2022 at 5:37 pm #

      How kind of you to say. As I sat down and wrote, I realised I had missed writing them too



  1. So fragile, so precious | Shewolfinthevalley - December 9, 2022

    […] series of posts starts here, with Taking Smock of the Situation. Or you could skip straight to the post when I first mention Mum recalling when she worked out how to draw a horse here. You’ll see some of her sketches of horses […]


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