Tag Archives: Taking Smock Of The Situation

Mum’s Escape Day

20 Jan

On 20 July 2021 I wrote

Well that’s been quite the day!

I went for a much needed swim late this afternoon, the tide was out, far out but that was fine. The sea was almost as warm as the Scottish sun and I floated on my back and splashed my feet in the salty water. Nearby a heron stood watching everything… occasionally poking its head into the water and coming up with a snack.

Then I sat on my usual rock and stitched. And breathed in that fresh salt air.

First thing this morning I sewed more name labels on to Mum’s clothes. I’d emptied out her chest of drawers, and chosen her capsule wardrobe. The chest of drawers and a holdall of clothes was ready to go. We removed favourite pictures from the walls of her home.

And then I took a Covid test. I’m Covid-free. Phew.

Because today of all days I could not have Covid.

Today is Mum’s Escape Day.

She arrived, by ambulance, just after I got to the care home to get her room ready. Her chairs and the bed have familiar throws over them; her old chest of drawers is in the corner; there are vases of flowers from her garden.

She thinks she will be fine there. I think so too.

I needed that swim.

20 January 2023 and as I re-read those words I wrote exactly 18 months ago, tears pricked at my eyes, and I could feel a first sob try to escape from my throat. I’ve put the sob back, but the tears are gently falling.

No more to add today, except to say that yes, she has been fine there, and she continues to be so. And, as I was told on that first day, I have been able to go back to being ‘just a daughter, not a daughter and a carer’ again.

***

Finally, 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, an embroidery project I started after I realised Mum might have dementia. There I was, embroidering her old fisherman’s smock with symbols relating to her life; meanwhile her memories were being thrown around like so many pieces of jigsaw in a big box.

Not in the mood for this? That’s ok. But if you feel like a bit of cooking or baking, perhaps making use of the short Seville oranges season to make some delicious marmalade then you could check out my recipes here. This blog started out as recipes, sometimes accompanied by wee stories, so I’ve got a back catalogue of tasty things to make. Do let me know if you’d like me to add more recipes in the future – I had an ambition to make a carers cookbook a couple of years ago… perhaps some day.

Just click your fingers

17 Jan

On 19 July 2021 I wrote

I’ll come back to the flower and pick out some details, but for now I’m done with pink, so it’s back to the stem and frondy leaves.

The pendant was Mum’s (of course) and I remember as a child thinking how glamorous she seemed when she put it on. Mum has never been someone who cares much about fashion and she never wore make up, except perhaps a smudge of matt pink lipstick sometimes, so glamorous wasn’t a word I often associated with her.

Mum has given me lots of her jewellery over the years, and gave me this pendant when I came to mind her back at the beginning of this year.

Then a couple of months ago I found her one day distressed and trying to remove her wedding rings (dad gave her a second gold band for their golden wedding). She couldn’t explain why but she no longer wanted to wear them, she wanted me to look after them. I did, but made a deal with her that all she needed do was click her fingers if she wanted them back.

A couple of weeks later she clicked her fingers and she wore them again. Until she broke her wrist and the quick thinking nurse removed her rings before her hands and fingers blew up like balloons overnight.

I’ve been wearing her wedding band now for the last 5 weeks, but Mum still knows she can click her fingers if she wants it back. It’s hers.

And now, 18 months after first writing those words about Mum’s wedding rings, I wear her ring all the time. Initially it felt odd to wear a gold band, on my wedding ring finger. I have never been married, so in my late 50s I had never worn such a significant gold band. I was constantly aware of it. Shortly after I started wearing it I also took to wearing a ring Mum had given me several Christmasses ago (it was simply attached to a ribbon and hung on the tree, for me to find). It had been Granbunny’s ring, and it fitted the same finger and, being a ring with a large cut topaz surrounded by seed pearls, it hid the simple gold band. I felt like the gold wedding band was my secret. It was also symbolic of the strong bond I had with Mum. And of our separation. It was a constant reminder to me (though none was needed) that she was now so very different to the Mum I’d known all my life. And also a reminder that some day, she would no longer be with us.

I also regularly wear a modern amethyst and silver ring which Mum used to wear often – I’ll never know for sure now, but I think perhaps Dad bought it for her on a trip they made to Orkney in the 90s. Again, Mum had given this to me a few years ago. The other ring I now put on every day is a simple limpet shell, picked from Carrick Shore – it feels soothing to carry this bit of the shore with me all the time; despite the slight discomfort when I first started wearing it!

I haven’t taken Mum’s wedding ring off for more than a few minutes at a time since that day she went into hospital. And each of those few minutes have been at her behest. Initially she thought she might wear it again, and she would tentatively try it on; she would also try on Granbunny’s ring… but always, always she would give both rings back to me, saying I should keep them safe.

Latterly, she talked of another woman who ‘lives here and sometimes comes to see me’ who had a ring like Granbunny’s ‘but not as special’… and Mum was somehow worried that this woman might get confused and believe that Granbunny’s ring was actually hers, or that both rings might get stolen or lost. I continued to assure Mum that I kept all her things safe. But, as ever, if she wanted anything back all she had to do was click her fingers.

In the months after Mum went to live in Fleet Valley we would occasionally take her out bundled up in a wheelchair, for a short walk in the fresh air, and then for ‘soup and a sandwich’ for lunch; or if it was still too early for lunch, then for a hot chocolate. Mum loved a hot chocolate. The first time we went out, she seemed so diminished, and almost frightened of her surroundings, and she probably was. By this time she had been institutionalised for some months, her dementia meant that she found it difficult to process anything new or unfamiliar and this was far out of her recent experience of life. Her hot chocolate arrived in an enormous cup and saucer and Mum just stared at it. We all wondered if she would be able to lift it to her mouth, and at what point we help her. Mum picked up the teaspoon, and delicately started to spoon off the froth on top of the hot chocolate, licking her lips with delight at the sweet taste. In that moment I realised that whenever I buy a hot drink with any froth on top, the first thing I do is spoon off the froth and eat it… I hadn’t known until this moment that I was just copying Mum.

Out for a hot chocolate with Mum, and she clicks her fingers to get her rings back!

There was one day, when we were having this conversation, and Mum realised that she could no longer click her fingers – this mattered not, she knew that I would honour my promise and that I was just looking after things on her behalf.

And truly, this is how I’ve felt about so much this last year. As though I am just holding on to Mum’s most loved things on her behalf. And in that list of most loved things, I include myself and my siblings.

***

Finally, 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, an embroidery project I started after I realised Mum might have dementia. There I was, embroidering her old fisherman’s smock with symbols relating to her life; meanwhile her memories were being thrown around like so many pieces of jigsaw in a big box.

Not in the mood for this? That’s ok. But if you feel like a bit of cooking or baking, perhaps making use of the short Seville oranges season to make some delicious marmalade then you could check out my recipes here. This blog started out as recipes, sometimes accompanied by wee stories, so I’ve got a back catalogue of tasty things to make. Do let me know if you’d like me to add more recipes in the future – I had an ambition to make a carers cookbook a couple of years ago… perhaps some day.

Snacks as self-care

13 Jan

On 18 July 2021 I wrote

I drive past the Galloway Smokehouse at Carsluith every time I go to visit Mum in hospital.

I lie.

Some days I don’t drive past, but stop in and see what snacks they might have for supper.

My brother and I knew from the outset that caring for Mum would be, as they say, an emotional rollercoaster. And it’s fair to say that it was. I hardly need to say that I’d known Mum all my life, so witnessing her slow decline each day, towards an inevitable death was almost impossible to bear.

But it was not by any stretch of the imagination unrelenting sadness and doom. Though most days one of us would cry, we looked after one another. Being in Galloway was a huge comfort in itself – the views would make my heart sing, the trees in the local woods bathed me with their dappled sunlight, but the shore was always the balm of choice for my soul. And even on days when I didn’t manage to get down to the sea, just knowing it was there, waiting, always there, was a comfort to me.

Our family has always found comfort in food, in eating well, in caring for one another through making something that nourishes their soul as well as their body. So, of course we were going to buy a lobster from the Galloway Smokehouse! And it was delicious, and only £12, if I remember right.

On the last day I drove the 84 miles round trip from Gatehouse to the hospital in Stranraer and back again, I also stopped off at the Antique Shop I’d driven past so many times. You can see its big sign on the side of a farm building from the main road, but essentially it is deep in the middle of nowhere.

It was one of the hottest days of the year (I know this for a fact, because one of my other projects that year was making a temperature blanket, so I recorded the highest and lowest temperature of each day for the whole year), and there was not a breath of wind. I’m not used to hot weather and don’t actually like it very much, so it was sweet relief to head into the cool byres and rummage about in the piles of musty furniture and random stuff. It was fairly inevitable that I’d come away having bought something, but who would have predicted the vintage jelly mould? Eighteen months on, I’m still to get into the jelly-making habit (not helped by the jelly mould being stored in Mum’s larder, while I live 100 miles away). But there’s time, there’s always time. Until there isn’t, of course.

As I write this I’m about to set off to see Mum. It’s a 200 mile round trip these days, but I do it so willingly and with joy in my heart at knowing I’ll see her when I get there. When I arrive in her room, with my arms open wide with joy, I greet her with “Hello Mum… it’s me…. Loïs”. I started doing this instinctively at a point when she found it increasingly difficult to find the words she wanted, and that could include a person’s name. And, although this is a kind thing to do for someone with dementia, I realise it is a kindness to do it in all sorts of situations (though post pandemic I don’t find myself in those network type situations any more, so perhaps I will never put this into practice).

I know that I won’t always look forward to seeing Mum, there will be times when it is more than I can bear to see her so changed from that vibrant, confident Mum we all knew – and over the last 18 months there have been times when I have almost dreaded visits. But I seem to have found a zen spot that works for me at the moment. If she is alert we can have a limited conversation, and there are usually smiles somewhere along the line. And if she isn’t, if all she can manage is to vaguely flicker her eyelids open and then go back to snoozing, then I can sit quietly knitting or embroidering for a while. I occasionally read a section of her memoir to her, or just talk to her about things she’s told me about her childhood. We often will make sure she has a lucky stone to hold, and I tell her how lucky that stone is to be held in her hand, how lucky I have been in my life to have been held by her, my favourite mother.

***

Finally, 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, an embroidery project I started after I realised Mum might have dementia. There I was, embroidering her old fisherman’s smock with symbols relating to her life; meanwhile her memories were being thrown around like so many pieces of jigsaw in a big box.

Not in the mood for this? That’s ok. But if you feel like a bit of cooking or baking, perhaps making Energy Bars, then you could check out my recipes here. This blog started out as recipes, sometimes accompanied by wee stories, so I’ve got a back catalogue of tasty things to make. Do let me know if you’d like me to add more recipes in the future – I had an ambition to make a carers cookbook a couple of years ago… perhaps some day.

Birdsong

10 Jan

On 18 July 2021 I wrote

I sat in the shade yesterday and completed the main stitching on the cosmos flower. Sitting in mum’s garden was beautifully calming, despite my double espresso. The only sounds were of birdsong, including the less than tuneful quackery and splish sploshing of these ducks.

In other news, the swallows took a couple of weeks off after their first brood fledged and now they are back under the eaves, with a second nest of eggs.

Mum wasn’t happy in hospital. She was aware of enough to know that this was not a good place for her to be, but she was unable to speak up for herself. Our time in the hospital was absolutely focused on her and on being with her, on giving her an hour or two each day when she was reminded of who she was, and that we would do everything we could to keep her safe. We didn’t want to lie to Mum, and we knew not to make promises we could not keep, so we never talked to her about getting her home, but talked often of her Escape Plan, of getting her out of hospital, of making sure she was looked after and happy.

One day she looked up at James, and said to him “I’m not going to go home am I?”. There we were, dancing around this truth, and she just came out with it. Even in her dementia, in her confusion, she made life easier for us. This was said at the point when we were just beginning to research care homes. It was perhaps the kindest thing she could have done, though I doubt that she knew it; she took away any sense that we were letting her down, that we were betraying her wishes. We already knew we could not cope with looking after her at home any more, no matter how often a day a carer popped in to help… but it was such a relief to know that at some level Mum recognised this too.

Mum absolutely accepted that we were making good decisions for her, and was so grateful to us. We didn’t want to give her details about the Escape Plan until we had it properly in place. Bits of information could circle round and round in her head, making her more anxious if they didn’t quite fully make sense to her. So, until we had everything confirmed we just referred to the Escape Plan.. and she seemed to quite like this concept.

In other news, around this time I was finally informed that I had not been successful in the internal job interview I’d attended a couple of weeks before. I had worked out for myself that I hadn’t been successful, but had become increasingly hurt that no-one told me (despite assuring me I would be informed within 48 hours of the interview). The reason I was given for not being offered the job was that I didn’t have another language. My new colleague is ace, but we are both perplexed by this reason for me not getting the job – they don’t have a second language either.

In other times this might have been a spur for me to really apply myself to finding another job. But, it had the opposite effect – I realised that I didn’t have the emotional energy to put myself through a recruitment process. I knew I could not present my best self to a potential employer, and also that further rejection would utterly break me.

Life continued. But I had absolute clarity about where my priorities lay from now on. And work was nowhere near the top any more. This was a new way of living for me – it didn’t yet sit very comfortably, but I have always been a relatively quick learner!

***

Finally, 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, an embroidery project I started after I realised Mum might have dementia. There I was, embroidering her old fisherman’s smock with symbols relating to her life; meanwhile her memories were being thrown around like so many pieces of jigsaw in a big box.

Not in the mood for this? That’s ok. But if you feel like a bit of cooking or baking, perhaps making this super simple Throw It In The Oven Chicken Dinner (I know, I should have just called it Winner Winner Chicken Dinner), then you could check out my recipes here.

A N I M A L S

8 Jan

On 16 July 2021 I wrote

It was hot enough at breakfast time to eat outside again. And as today was a hospital visit day again I didn’t need to rush off to work, so filled a quiet hour with some stitches. It’s a lovely way to start a day.

When my brothers and I had left home, mum took up her art more seriously again. She attended pottery classes locally and when she couldn’t get on to the wheel, she started sculpting with her clay. Of course she was drawn to animals (you’ve seen some of her sketches) and before long she was commissioned to create a prize bull from a photo. And her business was born… she created ceramic models of animals, and sent them all over the world. This was before social media, so she traveled to craft fairs and agricultural shows to promote her wares. And she had an old school leaflet, featuring this lovely picture of her with her wee dog, Mouse. (And wearing a fisherman’s smock!)

I share her love of pottery, and have treated myself to some lovely pieces made in Galloway over recent months – as you can see in the carousel of bonus pics below. If you want to own something beautiful, handmade by superb artists you might enjoy @minniwick and @wemakepots.

Eighteen months after I first wrote the words above, in the heart of winter, I am looking out of my window to a cold blustery day, the sky beyond the horizon is dark inky black, promising more rain to come.

And Mum is still around, though a much diminished character to the one we knew so well in July 2021. We cannot know what is in our futures, so it is strange thinking myself back to this time, knowing what I know now. I distinctly remember saying to James around that time that Mum might survive to my birthday (end of August) but not to Christmas. And he responded, that it would not then be to his birthday (just before Christmas). Mum has lived through another two Christmases since that conversation, and as we still cannot look into the future, we do not know if there will be another, or several more. It seems inconceivable, but then I have lived in the foreshadow of her death for so long now.

I visited her yesterday – she was in her bed, as she so often is, but was wide awake and quite alert. She was amused when I told her how our animals are – Puck the naughty black Patterdale terrier, Max the big black labrador with the stinky breath, Brutus the cockerel and only two hens (the others have been taken by badgers, which she remembered) ,, and then I said “And Gordon….” and she giggled, as I added “though he’s not really an animal”. I hadn’t seen her actually giggle for a while, so it was a delight to see.. and she still agrees that he’s a keeper. He certainly is. Mum realised it before anyone else, and despite her limited abilities, she still knows it.

So yesterday was A Good Day. I left her, promising to visit again this morning, at coffee-time.

She was dressed and sitting in her chair this morning – she can no longer dress herself, a combination of her dementia, but also her frailty. She has no power left in her legs. After a couple of incidents when she was sitting on the edge of her bed, and a carer turned around for a minute (probably to get her clothes) and Mum slipped and landed on the floor, Mum is now moved from bed to chair via a hoist. She sits in a large padded chair, which has hidden wheels to wheel Mum to the dining room, or wherever.. .. and her feet don’t touch the ground, so she cannot even try to stand up should she forget she can’t do it any more.

Anyway, Mum was in her chair, dressed, and her hair was looking nice. But she seemed so very far away again. She hardly spoke, but seemed happy to sit and watch me knitting. I blethered a bit, telling her that I’m knitting a jumper for G, and that I also really love embroidery these days and I described the painting of silver birch trees that I found in her sketch book which I am embroidering, slowly, oh so slowly. Mum had little interest, but politely sat there. She also had no interest in looking out the window when I could hardly hear myself speak over the loud drumming of the hailstones outside. Seeing this change in Mum makes me realise how much I value curiosity in people.

So, if we’re categorising, I’d say that today was Not Such A Good Day. But honestly, what is Good or Bad in relation to my dearly loved 91 year old mother? By what criteria do we measure Good and Bad? After all, she is content, and she is treated with respect and dignity, with care and love by the staff. So perhaps today is just Another Day. And tomorrow will be one too.

***

Finally, 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, an embroidery project I started shortly after I realised Mum might have the early stages of dementia. There I was, embroidering her old fisherman’s smock with symbols relating to her life as her memories were being thrown around like so many pieces of jigsaw in a big box.

Not in the mood for this? That’s ok. But if you feel like a bit of cooking or baking, perhaps making a delicious Banana Chocolate Nut Cake, then you could check out my recipes here.

Tide out. Tide in.

15 Dec

On 15 July 2021 I wrote

I don’t even know what day it is any more.

The sun was properly blazing today and high tide was at 4pm. By lunchtime I knew I wasn’t going to be able to focus on work so I booked the afternoon off and headed to the sea.

Sitting on a rock sewing as the tide comes in, then the tide goes out is a really good antidote to the world. As I sat there it all changed. Tide in. Tide out. But it was all the same. And it will all change again overnight. Tide out. Tide in. And it will be the same. But different.

As I was there I got further confirmation of an element of the Escape Plan, so it’s nearly all in place. I sat happily alone on that rock. The tide came in. It went out again. I cried.

Then I took off my dress and immersed myself in the sea.

The day before this, we had visited Fleet Valley Care Home, which was going to be Mum’s new home. I was born less than 100 yards from where Mum was going to spend the rest of her days. Her new postcode would be the same as the postcode where I was born and where I spent my happiest of happy childhoods. It all felt so RIGHT.

Mum was going to be looked after, would be cared for. And, at that moment, it felt as though this wonderful wee community, which helped to give me the best start in life, would step in and help Mum live her best life to the end.

This day felt hopeful, and as tears flowed down my cheeks and mingled with the sea I realised this was the most positive feeling I had felt in months.

***

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, an embroidery project I started shortly after realising Mum might have the early stages of dementia. So, there I was, embroidering her old fisherman’s smock with symbols relating to her life as her memories were being thrown around like so many pieces of jigsaw in a big box.

Not in the mood for this? That’s ok. But if you feel like a bit of cooking or baking (my cheese scones are MIGHTY) then you could check out my recipes here.

And I swam

15 Dec

On 15 July 2021 I wrote


I left my shoes and towel on this rock. And swam.

I’ll say no more at this point. But more will come soon. Very soon.

***

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, and embroidery project I started shortly after I realised Mum might have the early stages of dementia. So, there I was, embroidering her old fisherman’s smock with symbols relating to her life as her memories were being thrown around like so many pieces of jigsaw in a big box.

Not in the mood for this? That’s ok. But if you feel like a bit of cooking or baking, perhaps making a Christmas cake for people who don’t really like Christmas cake, then you could check out my recipes here.

Giving nature a wee nudge

13 Dec

On 14 July 2021 I wrote

It’s beginning to look like I might complete this cosmos flower, eh?

I was thinking about Mum’s garden today, and how very good she is at giving nature a wee nudge here and there to create something beautiful. It feels like she uses the plants as her palette and she paints something glorious.

When we were wee we had a big garden, including a kitchen garden where Mum grew enough vegetables for us to be virtually self sufficient throughout the summer. And one of Mum’s superpowers is getting people (especially kids) to do things… so some of my happiest memories are sitting with Mum at the table by the back door (it would be called on the stoep if we were in South Africa I guess) and shelling peas, extracting broad beans from their fluffy pods, topping and tailing gooseberries … I still love processing the harvest.

I think a lot about Mum.

In the first weeks, months, perhaps year I felt unbearably sad, thinking of how she is, how much she seems to have lost. And I guess, more selfishly, how much we have lost.

But more often these days I think of her with a smile on my face, recalling small details, generally of something recent. For instance how she declared this weekend how much she enjoys bedtime – and the nurse who was with us at the time commented that we should take comfort in the fact that she both knows that she enjoys bedtime and she can tell us so. It seems such a small thing, but he is right – and also, how wonderful to be 91 years old and to be able to do something you enjoy every day!

When I was with Mum I was telling her some of the things I have learned from her over the years, including making the best soup and how to sew. Mum was somewhat sceptical about the sewing, and to be honest when I think about it so am I. I do recall Mum encouraging me to sew, but I’m not sure how much she actually taught me – I learned most of it from books (in the days before the Internet and all those wee how to films on You Tube).

Mum also taught me how to appreciate birds in the garden. In latter years she declared that her garden was her wildlife sanctuary and (perhaps because she could no longer go further afield) she encouraged all wildlife to come to her… she would sit quietly at the big window, and watch all the activity just feet away from her. She had a pair of collared doves who lived just above her house and would come and sit on the back of the garden chair on her patio, before hopping down and eating seeds she had thrown out for them. And then the cheeky wee territorial robin, always at her feet, hopping around after her wherever she was in the garden. A sleek blackbird. A variety of blue tits and coal tits hanging on the bird feeder. Sparrows, so many wee sparrows and dunnocks. And over the years various pigeons, who became more and more demanding that food should be thrown out to them by late morning – if it was not there, they would hop up on to the window ledge and tap at the window till Mum noticed and threw out some food.

Birds would often get into the house – swallows would occasionally swoop in and then circle round and round the chandelier, before perching on one of its arms, trying to work out how exactly to swoop back out again. One morning we found a bird fluttering about inside the wood burning stove – the fire hadn’t been lit for weeks, so the wee bird wasn’t in danger of being burned. But it needed to be rescued, so Mum opened the glass door and picked it up, holding it so gently in her hand before letting it fly off outside. Other birds would fly into the conservatory (well, the door was always open and there were usually nice plants in there for an inquisitive bird)… and they would flap around, trying to get out the windows. Mum always calmly picked these panicked flappy wee things up in a way that I never quite mastered… and she would check them out, identify them (referring to the Big Bird Book if necessary) and then let them go.

These memories seem all just part of ordinary, daily life with Mum.

But she also had a talent for killing birds. It was a talent she only used rarely. One of my earliest memories was of being in the garden and mum picking up an injured bird (I think it was a baby blackbird) from under the hedge. Mum then turned her back to us, and when she turned around again the bird was dead. She had wrung its neck, put it out of its misery. I was in awe. This woman had some superpowers (not just being able to pick up a bird, but also to despatch it!).

And there was also the fable of Mum as a child shooting a sparrow with her bow and arrow. And then roasting it over a wee fire and eating it. This tale always seemed almost too fantastical to be true, but all Mum’s life she has sworn it really happened. Not much meat on a sparrow evidently.

***

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, and embroidery project I started shortly after I realised Mum might have the early stages of dementia. So, there I was, embroidering her old fisherman’s smock with symbols relating to her life as her memories were being thrown around like so many pieces of jigsaw in a big box.

Not in the mood for this? That’s ok. But if you feel like a bit of cooking or baking, perhaps making a Christmas cake for people who don’t really like Christmas cake, then you could check out my recipes here.

So fragile, so precious

9 Dec

On 13 July 2021 I posted

I’m up and at it today!

I’ll head off to see Mum in the hospital again soon… she is almost blind, so can’t read any more. She can’t listen to the radio as it’s an open ward. So, while we’re not there all she has is the noise and bustling activity of the ward and her own jumbling thoughts.

The Escape Plan is coming along, but it needs to be a plan that will keep her safe and that is not as straightforward as it seems. Elderly people can be so frail, so fragile. So precious.

Anyway today you have the beginning of the fifth cosmos petal. And a sketch book so no other bonus pics today.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with Mum. And with her dementia.

Initially I was desperately sad, full of fear and terrified of what was to come. My biggest fears (have I written this already?) were that she would (i) no longer recognise me and (ii) have a dramatic personality change and become angry and SHOUTY. We have never been a shouty sort of family, and to this day I find myself recoiling if someone properly raises their voice at me.

To cut to the chase, so far, neither of those fears have come to pass, so I consider myself incredibly lucky .. of course I would be luckier if Mum did not need to live in a care home, if she could continue living independently at home as she wished; if she continued to have full use of all her faculties, as they say. But, given that she has dementia, I feel blessed that it has developed as it has. Watching the progression has been profoundly sad at times, but never despairing or frightening. I have never dreaded going to visit Mum, in fact I find myself yearning to be with her.

A few months ago, as Mum’s verbal communication diminished yet further, I sensed that she was struggling with taking phone calls. She often found it difficult to find the words she wanted to use, and could hardly understand what I was saying half the time. The calls seemed to make her more stressed instead of offering any comfort. Her hearing has been iffy for years, but she no longer wears a hearing aid. So I reduced my daily phone calls from every evening before she goes to bed to one or two calls a week, and generally through the day. I was weaning myself off the calls. I don’t know if Mum noticed when I stopped calling altogether, if she remembered that we used to speak on the phone every day, or if she had a sense of how long since she last saw or heard from me?

Anyway, I haven’t called her for so long now. And I miss her voice.

I wonder what she misses? She seems not to miss her easy use of language, her vocabulary, where she could always find the right words. Sometimes these days she can’t find a word, and it doesn’t seem to distress her – she just pauses and then the whole sentence seems to drift away.

She listens when I tell her what a talented artist she is, and that she drew the picture which hangs on her wall – but it’s as though I am telling her about someone she really has no personal interest in. She remains politely faux-curious about it, often responding “Did I really?” but she has no further curiosity about this aspect of her life, this person I am describing to her. Perhaps Past Mum really is someone that she has no personal interest in?

And occasionally I recount her story of when she was a 6 or 7 year old in South Africa… when she was sitting in the dust on one side of a barbed wire fence and drawing the mules which were grazing on the other side – I can still see my drawing in my minds’ eye, and feel the excitement of discovering how the legs joined onto the body.

Last time I told her of this story, she was vaguely interested in it, though she no longer remembered it. But she did acknowledge that if she told me then it must be true!

She did, however, remember that the ring I wear on my finger was her Granbunny’s ring, passed to Mum and then to me. And she remembered that her Great Aunt Janey had a very small gullet (cue: fake coughing from both of us, to demonstrate the smallness of the gullet) and that the same Great Aunt Janey had very large bosoms, and wore long strings of beads … and those strings of beads would, on occasion, slip into a bowl of soup and then swoosh back and forth across aforementioned very large bosoms, creating an arc of soup across Great Aunt Janey’s top. I feel I have known about Great Aunt Janey’s soup encrusted bosoms all my life.

And then, Mum will recall that Great Aunt Janey always said that Mum’s eyes were “green as gooseberries”. And Mum’s eyes light up, those tired gooseberry green eyes.

I can’t rely on these stories always having resonance, but while they do, they are like magic talismans to me. Talismans? Talismen? Why can’t we have taliswomen?

***

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. 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 too.

Not in the mood for this? That’s ok. But if you feel like a bit of cooking or baking, or even making the best hot tomato chutney you will ever eat, then you could check out my recipes here.

Memoirs and memories

6 Dec

On 12 July 2021

It’s day 42 of this year’s 100 day project. But I’ve just counted and this is only my 23rd post so far. I’m not going to stress about it, but will try to keep carving out wee parcels of time more often so I reach day 100 before the end of the year.

Most days when we visit Mum in hospital we read to her, excerpts from her ‘memoirs’ that she wrote a decade or so ago. This evening as I stitched I listened to Mum’s mother, and Mum’s Uncle Walter reading HIS memoirs which he recorded 40 years ago. Uncle Walter was blind by the time he made these tapes .. he recorded them then sent them to his sister (my grandmother) who was living in South Africa at the time.

The first chapter includes his memory of the outbreak of the first world war. I’m still getting my head round this fact. Uncle Walter was very much part of my childhood… he came to us for Christmas each year, and insisted we all be upstanding for the national anthem before we watched the Queen’s broadcast on telly at 3pm. And this evening I heard his voice again, talking about the first couple of weeks of WW1.

Your bonus pic today is a sketch of a boat by Mum. Enjoy.

Back in Galloway things were moving apace. We had made an appointment to visit Fleet Valley Care Home in two days time. Meanwhile we kept the regime of visiting Mum every day – our visits had to be booked in advance with the hospital, and only one of us at a time. I still consider the negative impact all that time in hospital had on Mum – in unfamiliar surroundings, and no longer able to really make sense of things because of her dementia, her wrist healed, but she faded. I was deep in grief, had been for 6 months by this time, and was operating on some kind of auto pilot.

The only people I was really in touch with were family, my work colleagues (all online, which was possible due to the pandemic with all of us working from home, wherever home may be) and my friend Juliet. And I had become really aware that I had nothing to talk about apart from how Mum was, and how it impacted me. And this was of little interest to anyone else outside of our immediate family circle.

With hindsight it is clear, but even at the time I was aware, how very close to being absolutely broken I was. And this had all happened in a relatively short space of time – from January 2021 through till the July. Could I have done things differently? Could I have looked after myself better? I honestly believe that if you turned the clock back I wouldn’t do much differently. We were feeling our way, we were deep in grief, but also there was a Global Fucking Pandemic on, as I kept saying to anyone who would listen (which we have already established was a very small circle!)

I’ve been dipping into Mum’s memoirs again recently, and had forgotten about this passage from her early life in the Cape, in South Africa:

I had a serious illness when I was about 3 or 4 and remember little about it. I got diphtheria. The Dr was called from Somerset West and I was bundled up and taken down to his cottage hospital where (so I’m told) the matron refused to admit me because of infection, and the Dr had to threaten her with the sack to get me in. I remember vividly that after the crisis was over I was brought home and put into the spare room – the indignity of being put into nappies when I was long ago potty trained! My convalescence was long – there were not antibiotics, and penicillin had not yet been discovered.

And every time I read it, I can’t quite get my head around the fact that ‘penicillin had not yet been discovered’. I have, of course, done the most cursory of research to make sure that this fact is true (one of Mum’s superpowers is to state things with such conviction that you would never question it… only once or twice in my life have I discovered that what she was saying was ENTIRELY bogus). Anyway, I’ve discovered that penicillin was first discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928, but I’m guessing hardly anyone knew about it at that point. And it wasn’t until 1942 that it was successfully used to treat a patient… so in the mid 1930s when Mum had diphtheria she would have had to wait about 8 years for a dose of penicillin, and even then it would have been unlikely she, a small girl, would have received it, as later in her memoirs she reminds us that that during the war priority was given to soldiers and war wounded.

Mum returned to Dumfriesshire, Scotland during the War, with her Mum and her two sisters. I will share much more, but this passage describes the second time she was (with hindsight) denied penicillin…

I got appendicitis and was sent to the Moat Brae nursing home where Dr Gordon Hunter took it out – he made a bad job of it as it wouldn’t heal and I have a huge scar on my tummy to this day. (No penicillin for non-combatants in those days – it was a new ‘wonder drug’ and kept for wounded and forces people. I was in the Nursing Home for at least 2 weeks which I really enjoyed and recovering at home for months – in fact I never went back to the Academy to my great relief.

Now, in late 2022 diphtheria has been in the news recently, following an outbreak at a refugee detention centre in the south of England. I’m glad penicillin can now be prescribed, and the outbreak seems to have been curtailed.

Later in life I recall Mum in bed ill with pleurisy. To this day I don’t really know what pleurisy is, but I’m guessing something to do with lungs. I could google it, I know, but that is not the point of this story. I was young, and was aware that she was really very ill. The doctor came to see her, and at some point while she was ill it was established that she was now allergic to penicillin! I have no recollection of what happened, or what symptoms led her to realise she had this allergy.

While Mum was ill, Dad would have continued working, and Rachel Chalmers, our babysitter, came to look after us. I adored Rachel. She was old, or what I thought was old. And her birthday was Christmas day. She lived with Emily, her ‘sister’ at the other end of Fleet Street. Mum described them as women whose loves had been killed during the war so they ended up as spinsters living together. Emily was petite and dainty, Rachel was tall and somehow mannish. I may be wrong, but I only remember one bedroom in their tiny wee house and assume they were not sisters, but partners. I hope so. I want to believe thy had all those years of love, instead of all those years yearning for the love that was taken from them during the War.

***

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. It includes, somewhere in there, a link to my fundraiser for Alzheimer Scotland… pause for a minute before you skip over that link, and know that any and every donation will make a difference. We are all much more hard up these days, I know, but if you have a spare pound, please consider gifting it – when enough of you do this, we can make a real difference to people’s lives.

Not in the mood for this? That’s ok. But if you feel like a bit of cooking or baking, including the best Christmas cake for people who don’t like Christmas cake, then you could check out my recipes here.

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