SallyP

Retroladytyping …

Magic kisses

 

 

magic kisses

Before I get into this post properly, I’ll just say that I’m not writing it so anyone can say anything supportive or reassuring – please don’t; I know the natural response is to say I did my best, but …

Over the past week or so, I’ve had a problem dropping off to sleep … nothing significant, just that I’ve been full of cold, so breathing while lying down has been a challenge.   During the wee small hours, when I was reluctantly awake, I remembered my mum’s magic kisses …

When we three were children and had problems sleeping, we would request, and be given, magic kisses.  These were gentle, barely a touch with her lips, on each eyelid.  The magic was that, once bestowed, we would have to keep our eyes closed till morning.  It worked.  It really did.  My mum had magic powers.  (I’ve mentioned those powers in an earlier post, in relation to her cures-all- ills cakes.)

Some of you will know that Mum died two and a bit years ago, after a struggle with dementia.  She was ill for quite a while before I was strong enough to recognise that and to stop coming up with ‘normal’ reasons for her behaviour, distress and confusion.  In my defence (and that of my two siblings), we did not know much about dementia; in fact we knew next to nothing and what we did know was based purely on hearsay and anecdotal evidence.    We thought it was a natural process of ageing (Mum was 87 when she died) and  meant increasing absent-mindedness.  If only.  We put her  symptoms down to that and her profound deafness – another problem which we didn’t properly address due to differences of opinion with our father.  It was more comfortable for us all to do that.  Once a child always a child maybe, but that’s no excuse.

There were also several major family issues and  history which confused us and meant that we were unable to detach ourselves enough from those and our memories to deal with Mum’s increasing distress.  I wish that I (I won’t speak for my siblings)  had behaved like the grown woman I was, but old feelings were never far below the surface.  I allowed mine to affect how I dealt with a very adult and even frightening situation, in which the balance of power had, or should have, been reversed.    I wish I hadn’t.   I wish I had been stronger.  I would now be able to advise others to do just that, to accept the dramatic changes in family dynamics, but I couldn’t do it myself.  I should have.

I now know that a great deal of Mum’s distress, and the horrific events surrounding her being sectioned could have been avoided.  That long 7 months while she was incarcerated in a secure unit, where she was distraught, hallucinating and clearly extremely frightened, alternating with being seemingly catatonic due to the drugs she needed to keep her safe, might have been avoided.  I, as the so-called ‘sensible one’ of the three,  (the mysterious ‘everyone’ said so; therefore it must have been true) should have taken responsibility and done something before her illness manifested itself so  that there was no safe alternative to her being sectioned with all the horrors that entailed for everyone involved.

My brother had been the  ‘naughty one’ while we were growing up; my sister was very much our baby sister, so I should have been able to take charge.  They have both since  fervently denied that I should feel any more responsible than they  do, but I do.    In fact my brother is seemingly philosophical about Mum’s illness:  it’s happened; it’s past and no point dwelling on the circumstances.  All we can do is learn, realise we did our best and move on.  I wish I could be like that.

Once events had taken their catastrophic turn, we were all equally involved and played to our strengths; my brother dealt with the administrative side (there is a great deal of that); I mostly did hospital visits.  He visited too, but some of Mum’s symptoms and the ways in which her distress manifested itself were extremely difficult for a son to witness.   He did more than his fair share by visiting my father who, by this time, was thoroughly confused, understandably, by the turn events had taken and whose behaviour was consequently difficult to deal with.  I couldn’t; my brother did. Family dynamics and history prevented me.  My sister supported us all especially  when we called for help, even though she lives in a different part of the country.

Thankfully, and largely due to help from a wonderful Community Psychiatric Nurse, Mum’s final few months were spent in a lovely, caring and understanding environment.  Vicky (the CPN) supported us through the process of finding a Nursing Home, where Mum was given the love and respect she deserved, even though she was probably, by then, sadly unaware.  I  eavesdropped shamelessly when the staff were carrying out personal care for Mum and their attitude was always one of complete respect; they maintained her dignity; they showed tenderness and understanding.  They were incredible people.

On my part, however, no amount of visiting Mum, caring, feeding her, comforting her while she was sectioned and after, explaining her needs to those caring for her,  attempting, and mostly failing, to deal with her distress will make up for not being there when she really needed help.   I still feel responsible for how my mother experienced the last few years of her life.   I always will.  Yes, I did what I could at the time, but her extreme distress could and should have been avoided.  Things did not need to get to that point.  If only I had been able to detach myself enough to do what I would now advise anyone else to do.  Recognise there is a problem; disregard family dynamics; ask for help; make a fuss until someone professional listens and that help is given.  There is no cure; there is no treatment, but events don’t have to follow the path they did for my Mum.  There is, however, I have since learned, ways of mediating the dreadful effects of dementia, so that the extreme distress and fear experienced by my Mum can be avoided to some extent at least.  Mum could have been one of the old ladies enjoying being in the sunny garden at the Nursing Home, laughing at the antics of staff playing rounders, as others were one day when we visited.  Mum was in bed, unable to speak or respond at all.  Again … if only.

Just to compound that feeling of not doing what I should have done,  and arguably far, far worse,  I made the wrong decision about my priorities, not quite realising, after a conversation with her Nursing Home, that the 7th January 2014, two days before her 88th birthday,  would be the day she died.  I visited the day before with flowers and cards.   It was convenient; it was a Sunday and after all, I reasoned, Mum wouldn’t know the difference.  Monday 7th  was the first day back at work after Christmas and I didn’t really want to go back; I also didn’t want to ‘use’ my Mum as an excuse for not going back on that first day.

Consequently,   I was not there, even though I’d said I definitely would be.  I didn’t read between the lines of the   telephone call before I left for work.  I questioned my motives and priorities instead and I shouldn’t have.  I should have gone with my gut reaction and been with my Mum when she needed me.  She had been with me, but when she needed magic kisses there were none.  She wasn’t alone; a wonderful Care Assistant was with her and she described how Mum had been when she died  when I went to be with her having had the worst phone call of my life, while I was at work getting my priorities wrong.   She stayed after her shift ended to ask me how I wanted her to be dressed and took the trouble to phone me that evening to say how beautiful Mum had looked when she was taken to the Chapel of Rest.  She didn’t; I know she didn’t; she hadn’t for quite a while which is the harsh reality of dementia,  but it was still lovely of the Care Assistant to reassure me that all was as well as it could be.

Despite all the efforts of that kind, caring person, I will never get that day back.  No amount of  visiting during the time leading up to that day, or too late chats with someone else,  will ever make up for that omission and faulty decision-making.  Hindsight … if only again.

However, despite all that, it struck me while I was struggling to sleep, that it has recently become possible, sometimes even effortless,  to remember happy times, times when having my Mum made me feel safe, warm, comforted and able to experience her magic powers.  Those moments happen without trying and usually when my defences are down, as they were in the early hours. It’s taken a while, but that initial rawness and ongoing guilt is beginning to take a back seat.  I know it won’t always be a straightforward process, but, at last, there is hope.  I will always have regrets, of course I will, but they won’t change anything.  The only thing which can change is how I deal with them.  They are beginning, just beginning, to take their place in the recesses of my mind, while other feelings, memories and gratefulness to the staff at that Nursing Home float to the surface.

  closed-eyes

xx

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Starting over … in slippers

space clearing

I recently had a  conversation with a creative friend when we talked about writing being a form of therapy.  Yes, it certainly is, but, depending on my mood and how much nervous energy I need to expend, sometimes I need to be more active.

When that happens, gardening is the only activity which does the job enough for me to rest easily.

I used to think it was because of the exhaustion and sore muscles (aka being completely knackered) which follow a long session outside:   there was one occasion when, feeling annoyed because The One Who Likes Hitting Small Balls With a Strange Shaped Bat (aka playing golf), decided it was more important to do that than to remove the ivy which was slowly strangling our brickwork, I decided to do the job myself.   I tugged, ripped (several fingernails in the process), sweated, strained and eventually succeeded in denuding the wall by the garage.  I felt so much better, having used up all my anger.   Job done.  A blank  wall and a feeling of happy exhaustion and (not so) quiet satisfaction at leaving The One Who etc … a huge pile of debris to clear up.

As well as  using up nervous energy, I think it’s about starting again.  That blank garage wall became an, as yet untouched,   canvas for further creation.  There is something very therapeutic and renewing about digging, raking, cutting and clearing  a untidy area of the garden and planting anew.  There is then hope that whatever has gone awry can be corrected;  even after repeated attempts, there is hope that this time it will succeed and look perfect come June and July.  It won’t; I know that; it never does, as is proved by the many times I take my coffee outside for a sunshine sit-down, or while putting washing on the line,  and spot something which needs sorting immediately. Several hours later and without bothering to change into ‘gardening’ clothes,  I feel satisfied that there is again hope for the future.  There is mud under my nails,  I have scratches up my arms and I need a good hose down,  but I already feel refreshed and renewed.

Returning to the original idea of writing as therapy – maybe a blank sheet of paper, or computer screen, fulfils the same need to start over with  no dress code.

old man I found this picture on google.  The title is ‘Old Man Writing by Candlelight in Pyjamas’.  It reminded me of the friend in the first sentence, who is a midnight writer, as I am a dawn gardener.  He is definitely not old, but I think he would  like to be this man one day.  Whereas I would like to be, and probably already am,  ‘Middle-aged (and a bit)  Woman Gardening at Dawn in  Slippers,’ the point being that we each feel a need to do what we do, whenever we do it and however we do it,  without regard for convention.  It’s our therapy.    At least it is for me.  I know I would be (even more) stressed and miserable without that therapy.  So really, it’s a way of protecting my family and friends from the fall-out,  my motives are, therefore,  entirely selfless … naturally.

Since thinking of gardening as therapy,   I’ve discovered that there are a wealth of scholarly articles on the benefits for mental health of gardening.  I’m not at all surprised.  I was going to read one or two, but I’ve just spotted a huge dandelion in the middle of my petunia bed – how dare it?  It is going to die.  Where are my slippers?

gardening in slippers

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gardening-Slippers-Poems-Garden-Lovers/dp/1783340754

https://drawception.com/panel/drawing/4Dni3336/old-man-writing-by-candlelight-in-pyjamas/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/10862087/Horticultural-therapy-Gardening-makes-us-feel-renewed-inside.html

http://www.nursingtimes.net/roles/mental-health-nurses/gardening-as-a-therapeutic-intervention-in-mental-health/1921374.fullarticle

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2002/jul/28/

https://tide478.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

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The Legacy

IMG_0506 (3).JPG

Near our back door we have a broken pot which contains various gardening implements.  These are proper implements, some dating back to the 1950s, as their cracked handles and rust illustrate.  They have been used, neglected, abandoned in the rain, buried in mud and rescued, but never replaced.  Some may be  vintage; some are just plain old; all are useful and are used – frequently.

We acquired them from our parents, now sadly no longer with us.  (Sad, but not tragic – they all lived into their 80s and 90s).  They were all keen gardeners and we were lucky enough to be given free run of their garages and garden sheds.  We toyed with the idea of a car boot sale but these, and other,  old, damaged, but still useful tools now stored in the garage, had much more than monetary value for us, and still do.  I’m not sure where old ends and vintage begins, but these items are more valuable than they look.

Young and old hands have grasped those handles over many years, dug, tugged, raked and hoed to produce gardens which, we think, were worthy of more than a Chelsea medal.  Those gardens  fed us, entertained us while we ‘helped’ as children, kept us busy and out of mischief and gave our parents a hobby well into their old age, as well as providing a sanctuary  when indoor life became too much to deal with.

Now they are used by us and our siblings in an attempt to create a similar place, with varying degrees of success.  It can safely be said that I am an enthusiastic gardener, but will never have the skills demonstrated by my parents, or in-laws.  However each time I grasp one of those muddy damaged handles and use that rusty trowel, I remember them and their gardens; each time I use that extra large, and very strong, yard broom, I bless them; each time my husband uses his work bench, customised with old lino,  and vice  – old and very, very heavy – which he inherited from his father, he remembers his dad.  I’m not quite sure why he needs a vice; I’ve never seen him use it, but he loves it and insisted on transporting it and the workbench from his dad’s garage to ours, enlisting the help of a neighbour to heave it into position.

There is a rusty sweet tin in our garage,  which used to belong in the Aladdin’s cave of my father-in-law’s garage.  It contains all manner of nails, screws, tacks and even the occasional rusty coin.  I have briefly considered going through it, sorting out what is useful, and replacing the rusty tin, but I can’t; I just can’t, any more than I could replace the several trowels, rakes and forks which we have by the back door.

 

forget me not

 

 

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String and two sticks

Why I knit

I’ve always been a knitter: one of those ladies who click in the corner, with the occasional “Sssh, I’m counting,” while The Husband  is trying to concentrate on the plot line of one of those convoluted  thrillers which come in three parts.  Why?  Well, Mum did, Gran did and my many aunts did, so there were plenty of people around to help with tricky bits and   I am of the generation who were taught to knit at school from the age of 5, starting with dishcloths  progressing through dolls clothes and baby clothes to  knitting  our own school jumpers – the ones with a contrasting stripe around the ‘V’ neck, in two colours if you went to my school.

My sons   wore hand knitted woollies until it became uncool to wear mum’s hand knitting.  Strangely, they didn’t seem to want me to produce a customised Nike logo sweatshirt!    Now they are (very tall) adults  and hand-knitting is fashionable again,  they might like me to produce something, but it’s just too daunting – sorry boys.  Knitting for a nearly two year old  grandson, however, is acceptable because as long as he is able to get through his busy day in comfort, he’s happy.  It won’t last.

Any knitters reading this will know about the ‘stash.’  It results from the compulsive urge to  have a supply of wool and patterns,  just in case  of a sudden knitting emergency (not often wool nowadays, but still referred to as such.  Yarn just doesn’t sound right).  Temporary satisfaction of this urge is so easy now with  internet shopping and  has the added benefit of providing a colourful insulating layer for the spare room.  Sorting and categorising the different types by weight, colour, purpose and age, while planning future projects,  is a very useful displacement activity when housework is on the agenda, as is “just one more row.” (then another and another …)

A closer look at the image above shows that knitting has health benefits too.  It is meditative, mindful (impossible to think of anything else when knitting aran with all its cables, bobbles and lattice-work) and therapeutic, so much so that a group, Stitchlinks, has been set up at a local hospital to help those suffering from stress related illness. using knitting alongside more conventional therapies.  I need to remember those benefits when I am tinking and tutting in the corner.   I shall remind my husband, when the clicking and occasional heavy sigh disturbs his viewing, that, without my knitting, he would be unable to watch undistracted, as I would feel the need to talk,   even daring to ask for clarification of the plot,  instead of being the reasonably calm, almost silent,  occupied and content  woman he shares the settee with every evening.

(Tinking = unpicking i.e. reverse of knit-ing painstakingly stitch by stitch – often necessary when constructing complicated patterns using expensive mohair yarn and being distracted by three part thrillers).

P.S.  Just read an article about a lady who knits while running to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research.  Hmmm, now there’s a thought …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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