Sunflowers and Unicorns

unicorn 1


Well, what a lovely welcome back from those I abandoned some time ago, and who, it seems, forgive me my absence!  I really don’t know where I went.  Into myself I think, and that ‘think’ word has a whole lot to do with pretty much everything in life.  Thinking is a veritable rock at times until I find myself in a hard place, whence it may become destructive.

Being shoved onto a new path can bring about me a host, not of golden daffodils, but of shrieking wraiths and hobble trees, all out to trip me up.  If I stop to think about that, all I achieve is a greater number of shrieking wraiths and more hobble trees.  So, although I know they are there, I ignore them, keeping my eyes focussed on that sliver of light way up ahead, and there always is one out there for the seeing.

That light could be a few hours peace, sorry, minutes, in which to write uninterrupted.  It could be the thought of a really strong coffee, or some wind-battered gladioli, blood red and wonky chops that need staking.  I did a lot of staking this summer past.  Hollyhocks standing 9 ft tall and sunflowers dotted about like big yellow umbrellas.  Nobody knows who planted them and everybody knows that such triffidicae cannot possibly stand for more than 3 hours on the west coast without enough ropes and pegs to hold down a wedding marquee in a force ten.  Notwithstanding, they appeared and they grew and they dazzled all passers by, until last week when they made it clear they had done their bit, and fell over.

When life confounds, all small things take on a grandeur they mostly don’t deserve, nor warrant.  This phone call to the doctor, that prescription to collect, this carer to call, that occupational therapist to contact for another hand rail or a fancy gadget to make life safer.  The wood to unload, another to order, to split the kindling, change the bedding, fix the back light bulb in the car,  or to sort out yet another confusion on a laptop or a mobile phone.  In ordinary homes, I am guessing the daily grind is divided into blue and pink jobs, although I’m betting the pink part of the arrangement takes on a lot of the blue task list just to make certain it is completed .  The light in all this, for me, now, is that I am becoming a real whizz at blue jobs, halting only when faced with a chainsaw.  I can see me legless and without fire.  Not a good look at all.

What I have learned, too, is how resistant we unpaid carers can be in asking for help.  I think we think too much about it.  We don’t need help after all.  We have always sailed alone in this wife/mother life having got over the initial crushing disappointment, one that hit us smack in the chops just after we held out our finger for the wedding ring.  Where we were thinking White Knight, he himself was thinking Unpaid Slave, only he never said, because, as we all know, men only grunt once they have exhausted their entire vocabulary during courtship.  I wonder, even now, why on earth I am reading my granddaughters fairy tales, when I really should be reading them Tales of the Unexpected, unabridged.  We never learn……….

Laughter and light, that’s what I want and if it isn’t on offer from outside of me then I just have to conjure it up from within.  Fun and nonsense costs absolutely nothing to produce, has its own inbuilt marketing plan and requires no staff.  The most important thing is to keep moving at all times.  That way, I get through the hobble trees and outrun the shrieking wraiths, which, by the way, disappear (noisily) if you blow a great big raspberry into the place where their face should be.  If, in the blast of some accusation or criticism from the white knight, I get a fit of giggles, it all miraculously goes away.  No darkness is ever stronger than light and it takes one small candle flame to illuminate a room.  I may be one small candle flame, but I am damned if I will let any cold wind blow me out.

The other afternoon I was playing with two of my grand-daughters in the garden,  We rolled down the grassy bank and bounced on the trampoline after planting some hyacinth bulbs in a border.  Earlier I had picked up a unicorn’s horn, sparkly gold and crimson attached to a headband.  it was a bit tight, but not so tight I remembered it was there as I bounced and rolled and planted.  Some walkers came by and stopped to watch us for a moment or two.  My granddaughters are very beautiful after all and we will have made a pretty collage on a green hillside.

Hi, I called out.  You ok down there?

Yes, we are, came the reply, and still they stood, and looked.

It’s coz you’re a unicorn Gaga, said the older girl, rolling her eyes at me.

Oh yeah………



Return of the Judy

return of the jedi


So, it’s been over a year since I last wrote anything much beyond a shopping list, my signature on an official form, or, best, one of my loony letters.  I knew it had been a while, but over a year seems like more than a while.

What have I been up to during those months and seasons?  Learning how to, that’s what.  Learning how to be a carer for dementia, how to avoid confrontation or tripping hazards; learning how to make the best of an ever-decreasing bubble within which I now live.  Oftentimes the frustration and the sadness overwhelmed me, how could it not?  Watching a person recede into fairyland, centimetre by centimetre, unable to converse in the old way or to expect sentient reaction to any of a number of daily happenings, is to live as a fool.  Learning what not to say, what not to do, how loudly to speak or how softly, how to read a mood swing and for it not to confound are all extra demands, critical demands, demands that offer no option for escape, for the person with dementia lives both in the distant past and also in the moment.  What he wants, now, will not wait, even a few minutes; what he needs help with requires instantaneous action, not, any longer, a refusal to budge, having only just sat down.  The person with dementia has only his needs in his mind.  He can do as little about that as I can, but the legacy of doing everything required is one to be most carefully addressed or I will turn into a whirling dervish and fly right off the planet.  So, in order to remain reasonably unexhausted, I must set boundaries.  Well, how dare I!!  Yes, I do dare.  That frightful statistic I read somewhere, announcing that 69% of all unpaid carers die before their time, is a red light indeed.  So, I stop and I think whilst the cross traffic passes me by.  I think of ways, clever ways, kindly ways, softly spoken firm ways to make it clear I am not an employee, nor a slave; that although I appreciate his limitations, frustrating limitations for such an active man, I am not a robot (tick this box).  It is a tricky road to walk and no mistake and I get it wrong endless number of times, when I respond sharply to another interruptive demand for something like ‘lunch’ when ‘lunch’ can easily flipping well wait a minute or two.  In creating boundaries, whilst still respecting that they easily become tripping hazards, I accept that they appear unfair, unkind and selfish.  I will need to erect them over and over again every day till the end of time because they are oft forgot. Whilst I’m busy being firm about them, I must also make them of something soft, something easy to move about, because there are times I do jump in response, not because of a disaster in the next room, but because I cannot imagine what it is to feel that urgent need and to then feel so very upset and angry when She Who Creates Boundaries refuses to leap into her pinny?  Must be awful.

As the truth sank in, the removal of a driving licence, a skipper’s licence, the ability to walk without sticks or a walker, I feared he would just sit.  Not him.  Of course, not him.  He discovered WhatsApp and friends to WhatsApp with; he involved himself with Alzheimer Scotland, with the Scottish Dementia Working Group, and with an X Box.  Yes, really.  He hasn’t played much on it yet, having a spot of bother with the tv remote and control over the working thingy that sends out warriors into futuristic landscapes, but he will, one day because his spirit is still as strong as ever.  I watch him battle with the clues and I share his delight when a riddle is solved.  It thinks me often of a spirit strong, one that loses nothing in the demise of dementia.  It is the last thing to go, as it was with my mum who died in May.  I am fond indeed, of spirit and I have one myself, one that can be confounded at times as I dump a load of self pity on its head, but it doesn’t stay down for long, minutes even, rising up with a chuckle and a terse reminder that there are folk much worse off than I.  Of the 60 odd unpaid carers on this island, I am among the youngest, at 65.  Some of these carers are in their 80s.  Now that, Dear Life, is not fair at all.  I meet them sometimes in the shop and I look into their eyes as I say hallo and how are you?  I know how tough their life is to a degree, but not completely.  We share a joke, we chuckle, we shop and we move on.  That’s spirit for you.  And, as I drive home to deal with whatever comes next, I hold their face in my mind and I smile.  Tough old bird, I whisper to the fluffy cross-eyed sheep that hangs from my rearview.

Takes one to know one, he replies.