Tag Archives: dementia

London pigeons

10 Feb

I originally posted this on 8 June 2021, on the 8th day of my 100 day embroidery project.

Again slow progress on this wee swallow today… I did a wee bit before breakfast and then some more while sitting with Mum at teatime. Today was the first time she really showed much interest in this since I started actually stitching. She clearly thinks it’s slightly mad. Which it is. I’m ok with that.

Your bonus pic today is one of Mum with her wee sister Astri. And some pigeons. If we’re lucky, Astri will tell us where this is.

We established that it was most probably Trafalgar Square in London. And those are London pigeons. In the last few years one of Mum’s pleasures was feeding the birds on her patio. She had a pair of cooing collared doves that came to visit her regularly, and also a pair of wood pigeons, which are infinitely more glamorous than your London pigeons. And back when we were small, we were adopted by a pigeon one summer. It was a homing pigeon that decided our home was better than wherever it was meant to be … I remember it perching on top of the budgie cage, and poo-ing onto the budgies, which amused me at the time. We named it Cuckoo Not Our Pigeon. And one day it wasn’t our pigeon any more, it flew off to wherever it called home.

Did I mention that one of Mum’s superpowers is catching birds?

One of my early memories is of her with a wee blackbird in her hand (look away now if you don’t want to read about its demise)…. I think it was hurt, possibly by the cat. Anyway, Mum turned her back to us, and with a quick scrick of its neck, the bird was dead. I was hugely impressed with this ability at the time.

But generally Mum didn’t kill birds she caught, or not in my lifetime (though one of the legends of her childhood was that she killed a sparrow with her bow and arrow, and cooked it over a fire).

She caught birds that came down the chimney and got stuck in the woodburner, birds that fluttered against the inside of the conservatory windows, birds that flew into rooms and couldn’t find a way out again….

Posies of flowers

5 Feb

This stitching is from the 7th day of my 100 days embroidery project. It was early June, and this is what I wrote when I posted this pic.

This wee swallow hasn’t changed much since yesterday, but that’s part of the point of this project I think. It just takes its own time and gives me time to unwind, to think, to lose myself in the slow stitching.

Mum was brought the most beautiful bouquet of flowers this morning by a friend who knows she has dementia. Mum loved the flowers but, somewhat amusingly, immediately sent her out to forage in the garden for more blooms to augment them.

Mum was so good at always having a wee posy of flowers from the garden in the house. After I’d left home, whenever I came back to stay there was always always a mini vase of flowers on my bedside table. I’ve only just remembered this… so tomorrow I must remember to put a mini vase of flowers on her bedside table.

Looking through and finding all these pictures of flowers from Mum’s garden reminds me of a moment a few weeks earlier. In addition to Mum’s dementia, she had also become increasingly frail. She required a walking frame to get around – she had one with 4 wheels which she called her Dancing Partner, and this helped her get about the house safely. But she hardly ever ventured outside any more. One evening I mentioned that as I had walked across to her house that evening, I had been overwhelmed by the smell of the honeysuckle which grew over the gable of her house, by her bedroom window. She missed such pleasures.

I took her secateurs and picked a small bunch of sweet sweet honeysuckle. When I came back in and placed the flowers in her hand, she seemed not to know what to do with them… so I held them up to her face so she could breathe in their smell. Her face immediately relaxed, and broke into the widest of smiles. That perfect, pure joy!

It felt that there were relatively few pleasures left in Mum’s life – she no longer painted, or drew; she couldn’t garden any more; she struggled to read; and because of Covid she had spent the last 18 months in social isolation. But she still loved her food, and she adored flowers from her garden. I can’t tell you how good it felt to find something that genuinely gave Mum joy at that point. I think, perhaps, we were all seeking some joy.

Knowing that someone you love has dementia, or might have dementia, is frightening. You fear the worst. And actually you don’t really know how it will impact your lives, though you are pretty sure that it won’t be good.

There is help and advice out there, including from Alzheimer Scotland, who provide a 24 hour helpline. Please help them keep that helpline free for anyone who needs it. You can donate here: Alzheimer Scotland, and I can tell you that you are an absolute star for supporting all of us who have feared the worst when faced with the prospect of someone we love having dementia.

A superb 70s hat

3 Feb

And here we are at Day 5 of 100 of the embroidery project. This is what I reflected on at the time:

I haven’t got much stitching done today… I really haven’t stopped long enough to focus on it all day.

But since we never get just one swallow here is the second one. And I’ve learned so much by doing the first one, so I’m tweaking how I do this one. Well no two birds are exactly alike are they?

As a wee bonus, you get mum and dad dressed up to go to some fancy shmancy do. We’ll never know now what it was, but I hope wherever they were they appreciated that hat. It was sort of autumnal colours, in the way that many things were in the 70s. Or was that just in our house?

One of the first really obvious symptom of mum’s dementia was that she never knew what time of day it was, even if she had checked a few minutes before (and she did check with us frequently). At most meals she thought it must be breakfast time – I guess if you lose your short term memory, and have no recollection of the rest of the day you probably think there has been no day yet, so if it’s a mealtime, it must be breakfast!

We bought her a dementia clock, which helped a bit, except that she was determined to position it on a bookshelf in the passage way between her bedroom and the rest of the house, a place she only walked through either when she was going for a pee in the night, or when she got up in the morning. So, for the rest of the day she still didn’t know what day of the week it was, or whether it was morning, noon or night. We bought a second clock, and she used it a bit more. She was definitely aware of this being an issue, and later, when she had an appointment with the doctor and she knew they were going to ask her some memory questions, she deliberately checked the clock just before he called, so she would know the day of the week.

But the thing that initially helped the most, was a simple pencil and paper solution. We wrote the day of the week, and the mealtime on pieces of paper and positioned them at her place at the dining room table. She would sit down at her chair, which had always been her chair, with her back to the Rayburn and she would read the label, usually with some delight. She still has not lost her appetite and has always enjoyed good food.

I say initially.

The final picture in this series (below) wasn’t needed at first. Mum would go to bed (generally at about 8pm), and then wouldn’t get up again till breakfast time, or if she did, it was only for a pee and then back to bed. But in the late Spring, she started waking at night, and believing it was day time. She always seemed her most vulnerable during these nocturnal moments. Somehow it felt as though she didn’t have the energy or the capacity to pretend that she was ok, and she was often tearful and upset, realising that something was wrong, usually believing that she was a stupid old woman. I had hoped that on these occasions the ‘This is Bedtime’ message might convince her that it was still the middle of the night (that and the fact that it was pitch dark outside and I was in my pyjamas)… but she suspected that someone (possibly the pixies) had come in and changed the labels just to confuse her. I so wish I had never joked about the pixies putting them out so they were always right!

Thank you to all who have already donated to Alzheimer Scotland, you rock my world! And if you want to donate again, or for the first time, then today is a good day to do just that. Thank you all, I REALLY appreciate your support.

A Big Adventure

24 Jan

Mum was born in Scotland but before she was a year old she had travelled south with her mother and big sister to South Africa where her father had bought a fruit farm.

She lived there until she was 8 and WW2 broke out… and they made the journey back north to Scotland again. And at the end of the war they took that journey south again.

This pattern continued, back and forth from Scotland to South Africa pretty much until she married dad. I grew up hearing stories of the whaling ships she traveled on and it all sounded like such A Big Adventure.

No wonder we love the swallows that make that same journey every year.

The above was written on the Day Three of the 100 Days. I knew at the time that I should keep a diary, to remind me later what happened when, and how I was or wasn’t coping. But I didn’t. I just couldn’t commit anything to paper. It was easier to stab the fabric, to process things as I slowly stitched.

But, thanks to modern technology, I can look back at the messages I was sending my brother, and recall some of what was going on.

On this day, I discover that we were working out a new rota, given that we could now spend time together in the same house. The plan was for one of us to have a week on our own at Mum’s, followed by a handover week when both of us were there together, then a week with the other one going solo. I drew up the rota for the next few weeks, and took a picture and sent it to James, not knowing that none of it would actually happen in that carefully planned way.

I also noted that morning that there had been no nocturnal wanderings overnight. We were living in the house next door to Mum and had set up a motion sensitive camera to capture movement in the sitting room (so alerting us to her wandering around the house at night, rather than just getting up and going for a pee). At this point we noted that she was ‘one night on, one night off’ in the nocturnal wandering stakes. I was worn out, I’m sure Mum was too.

The District Nurse showed up mid-morning, to re-dress the bandage on Mum’s leg. She had fallen some weeks earlier, and had skinned her shin. Mum’s skin is thinner than tissue paper and also takes forever to heal. Another factor was the water retention in her legs, so the wound was literally seeping, soaking the bandage. The advice was to take advantage of gravity and for Mum to keep her feet up (we had tried water retention tablets earlier in the year, but Mum did NOT enjoy how they made her need to go to the loo very suddenly). So, each afternoon Mum would have ‘quiet time’ in her comfy chair with her feet up, and a blanket wrapped over her legs to keep her warm and cosy. Mum’s quiet time also gave me time to focus on work for an hour or two.

If you want to read more about the 100 Days Project, and to know more about why I’m embroidering a smock, go to Taking Smock of the Situation.

Thank you to all who have already donated to my associated fundraiser for Alzheimer Scotland, you are absolute stars! And if you feel moved to donate again, or for the first time, then today is a good day to do just that. Thank you all, you already support me in so many ways, so I REALLY appreciate you digging deep and supporting others when you make a donation.

Mum, with her big sister Jennifer

Emotional investment

20 Jan

Was I the only one who hadn’t realised quite what an emotional investment this project is? I mean what was I thinking of? Embroidering memories, while Mum’s are slipping away like water through her fingers.

I wrote this on 1st June 2021 the first morning of embroidering the smock:

This morning started with a phone call at 5am. Mum had cut her arm and needed help. Just as well I knew where she kept her stash of more dressings! She had no recollection of how it had happened.

At 5.30 we were all sorted and I was very much awake but not ready to start work. So what’s a girl to do but start embroidering? The light was perfect and the steady stitching slowed me down and somehow gave me the focus to face the day. I didn’t get another chance to stab the smock till after supper time, when the light was less good.

I’ll tell you about why swallows another time. There’s lots of time. Ish.

The swallow was designed by my nephew Max, who enthusiastically threw himself into this project. That week when I started embroidering the smock was a few days after the first weekend we had ‘opened up’ from a long-term and pretty severe lockdown in Scotland. Max and his Dad (my brother) had come to stay in Galloway, and it was the first time I had been there caring for Mum when others were also around. The sense of relief, of beginning to understand quite how hard this had been on our own, was palpable. I was no longer alone (not that I ever was, I was with Mum, but I think you know what I mean).

Initially I felt quite overwhelmed by the enormity of this project. I’d embroidered way back years ago, when I was still a child, so I wasn’t entirely new to the idea of using threads to paint pictures on fabric. I remember I embroidered brightly coloured flowers up one leg of a pair of jeans (in the 70s, obviously), but don’t recall embroidering anything else, or anything that I would today be proud of.

Not knowing exactly how or where to start, I had done some research and had learned how I might transfer a design to the fabric (using a stabiliser that would then magically dissolve in water when I’d finished stabbing). And then I just started stabbing at the fabric, using what felt like the right thread. I’d maybe do those swallows differently now, but not much… and I realise that this project was never about the embroidery, it’s about the journey as they say, it’s about the memories, the slow pace of the stitching, the joy of creating something that will hold onto this time we’ve had.

By the end of Day One I had made some small progress. I had also consulted with The Embroidery Book, published in 1949 and given to me by my grandmother on my 11th birthday (it felt like an old book then, but with all these years behind me now, I realise it wasn’t THAT old).

If you want to start at the beginning of this story, go to Taking Smock of the Situation.

Again, if you are moved to support Alzheimer Scotland, who work to ensure that no-one has to cope with dementia alone, please just clickety click here, and you will seamlessly be taken to my fundraising page. I’m currently 75% towards my target of £600, and I’d be beyond grateful if your kindness nudged me a bit closer to reaching that goal. Thank you.

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