It’s a year since I wrote this post.
I am so glad I was blogging a lot then. Now it is the anniversary of Mother’s last weeks and by reading back, I can follow the trajectory of those days; my visit in mid April and then the call to say she was dying; the five days leading up to her death. Afterwards.
Octavia and I were talking yesterday about the power of first anniversaries. Why does it feel so important that this month, day by day, I follow, relive, what happened then? The waiting for the inevitable; the knowledge that each time I left her might be the last time I saw her alive. Dementia robbed her of so much, but she was still recognisably my mother. Still someone I loved, with whom the connection was strong. So often those living with dementia are spoken about as though they no longer exist; no longer have rights; no longer have claims to be as human as us.
In the current issue of of the reader there’s a poem written by a woman about her mother who has dementia. It’s warm, celebratory, about the person not the illness.
Here it is:
I clapped at fairy cakes you conjured
from behind your back, went wild at
party frocks that blossomed bright as
tissue flowers from your mysterious sleeves.
At the school gates, your sleight of hand
produced late homework, dinner money,
eggs for cookery class and spells
to vanish me from Wednesday games.
Lost love and heartbreak turned to smoke
and mirrors at your touch, loud laughter burst
like brazen rabbits from your hat and
peaceful doves made homes inside your hair.
But that was nothing to the wonder of you now,
conjuring sense from scattered recollection,
dealing aces from a disappearing pack
in this most magical performance of your life.
Di de Woolfson
It was an entry in a competition for people with dementia or their carers. It didn’t win. For the winning entries you need to look here.
So long as I read and enjoy poetry, I think a bit of Mother lives on in me. The fact that more and more people are waking up to how poetry can be so beneficial for people living with dementia makes me glad. Research into drugs is important, but there is the here and now where people’s lives can be improved by something so simple. and I am so pleased that by chance it was something I realised helped Mother and which made her life better.
I’m always surprised by diary stuff that you read back later, having forgotten, and am so grateful that I took the time.
So much of the time just before and after my mother’s death is a blur to me, and a jumble of memories that I cannot order. Writing each post at the time was a way of processing what was happening each day; preparing for the inevitable; facing the sky wide emptiness afterwards. Now it feels healing to read, and reminds me of the intensity of those days where I was privileged to be able to spend so much time with her.
A beautifully written post on this first anniversary, Isobel. It seems that emotional healing takes so long and is so gradual that we/I need to go back to hear and remember just how much pain we experienced, how much we have healed, and I think to lick our wounds. I find it so useful to journal through the tough times. Anniversaries are a time of remembering – I hope all of your remembering brings you peace and a gentle smile.
Yes, this month feels particularly intense. There are other anniversaries too. My father died 17th April 1991. A happier one is the third anniversary of bringing MasterB home. And it’s spring, so there is something about forward movement and life continuing, yet in the blossom of each year I have remembered my father and now my mother’s memories are there too in the sudden startling beauty of the cherry tree.
I live about an hour’s drive from my mother; she lives with my brother. I go visit her about once a week and I believe I can see the trajectory you wrote about. I want to scream and shout about how wrong it is, the things happening, my inability to halt or modify dementia’s grip, but I walk away feeling more powerless in more ways than before. I love that poem. Thanks for your wonderful insight.
There is a moment when we have to yield to dementia and accept we cannot halt its unkind march. That is not to say we cannot mitigate its effects. So often care is something that is done for and to the person needing it. I believe we need to change our attitude fundamentally and care with the person. Another friend whose mother has dementia and is still living in her own home, alone, is looking for a choir her mother could go to as she has always enjoyed singing and it raises her spirits. But something as simple as visitors and carers singing with her when they visit can improve her day.
Dementia made my mother anxious and often fearful. In the early days that led her to accuse those closest to her of all sorts of things. It was painful, and a long time before we understood it was the condition that was the cause.
I was lucky I found that reading poetry with her diverted her circular and frightened thoughts; reached into a part of her mind that remained her. I hope you too find that place where you can meet your mother and where the tow of you can find enjoyment and pleasure. Poetry also gave me solace, and the poems I read with her now have an extra resonance.
First anniversaries are hard but my mind wanders to memories all the time.
Did you ever finish the poem you wrote about your Mother for the creative writing class? I thought that was beautiful xxx
Yes,I know what you mean. One memories spiral through our days. The Jack Lemmon quote about death ending a life not a relationship is a good one. I hear something and think of how I would have shared it with Mum; see something and think how much she would have liked it too. And the relationship continues.
I place the finished version of that poem under her hands in her coffin when I visited the chapel of rest.
Have you read the others on the link? They deserve a wider readership.
Anniversary days and their memories are big for me. First one for sure Isobel.. hugs.
I have been shredding some of the care correspondence today. It has been cathartic. I had forgotten how stressful it all was.
This is a lovely post, Isobel. It’s wonderful how, eventually, the stress vanishes from memory and the love remains x
Yesterday I shredded a load of old papers, many of them copies of my correspondence with social services. The number of hand written comments at the edge of letters about ‘phone calls, lost forms and misinformation brought back a lot of that stress. I had forgotten that for some time, despite having been given copies of the POA and told all correspondence should come to me, letters were routinely sent to my mother and I never saw them. I could feel my chest getting tight just looking at these papers again.
That didn’t win…wow.
But did you read the winning ones?
I loved the one that one i admit…but didn’t really love the second place. Third place was good too.