Category: Memory Books

Nursing her elderly mother after a fall, Patty Beecham reflects on the reversal of roles as she becomes carer

By , February 7, 2013 4:19 am

This article was published in the Courier Mail, Brisbane, Queensland.

http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/opinion/nursing-her-elderly-mother-after-a-fall-patty-beecham-reflects-on-the-reversal-of-roles-as-she-becomes-carer/story-e6frerc6-1226572035991

My elderly mother stands over my bed and whispers in my ear. “Are you awake?”

“Not really”, I mumble. I can see she is smiling at me, even though I am asleep.

It’s 5.20am and I remember that my mother is actually critically ill in Rockhampton, 700km north of my home. She was admitted last week after a horrific fall that shattered her thigh bone. Osteoporosis and old age; it ain’t for sissies.

The doctors tell us “she’ll never walk again, never be able to bare any weight on her leg”. They delicately performed her first ever operation, gluing her “mushy bones, like nailing sticks of butter” back together.

Mum is 93. A widow for nine years, a soldier’s bride and the mother of us four rowdy adult kids and enough great-grandchildren that we gave up counting them.

The family gathers. We sleep in our old family home, in a disarray of mismatched pyjamas and T-shirts, ready to spring into action; to drive to the hospital. We listen for the telephone, every inch of us straining to hear, ready to pounce.

Exhaustion takes its toll. Siblings squabble. We snap and leave rooms, words unsaid. We huddle and cry, wring our hands with helplessness. We cook, shop, eat, going through routines. I can taste nothing but chew methodically and swallow.

When the phone does jangle us awake we leap with angel wings to grab the receiver before the second ring.

At the hospital, Mum is sleeping. We wince at the sight of her and her poor, injured leg. Gently, we rub her feet. Tenderly, we kiss her cheek, her face, her forehead.

Each day more bruises appear on her arms. She has so many tubes and needles and veins and black and purple marks, it hurts to count them all.

Nurses come and whisper to us. My medically trained sister and niece translate doctor’s talk for the rest of the family, so we understand.

We stand in dismay at our situation. No one wants her life to come to this. This is not what was supposed to happen. Fighting our inner voices, we gather and pray for her life to end. Struggling with moral choices. Is it wrong to want your mother to die? Priests are called and we are grateful.

We discuss her life, remembering old memories, laughing at our own contributions. Gently, gradually, we come to accept. She fights on, grimly breathing and trying not to cough.

Only weeks ago, I bathed her. We dutiful daughters had taken over the task of showering her after she became agitated with the daily rotation of home visit nurses. No matter how cheerily they would arrive to care for her, it became too much. “So many new faces,” she would say and blush. She’s a proud, private woman.

Undressing her is an art in itself; gently removing her trousers and shoes, unbuttoning her floral blouse, being careful with her arthritic bones.

I know every inch of her soft body. Every curve of her dowager’s hump, every unidentified lump, every wrinkle and fold where once smooth skin lay pale, unseen. We inspect her for bruises. Her delicate, paper-thin skin demands our full attention. Gripping the handles we have installed with trembling hands, the fear of slipping and falling frightens us the most. It’s constantly on our mind, the elephant in the room we cannot avoid. Already, she’s broken her wrist, and once slid off a chair when her dressing gown proved to be slippery on the leather seat.

I powder her chest, easing on fresh clothes and walk her gently to her bedroom. Now fully dressed, she lays on top her bed, exhausted. “I’ll just rest a while” she says, her eyes closed.

Bathing mum gave me opportunity and wisdom to see hands-on old age and dignity. It taught me patience and respect, returning my mother’s love and care.

I stand next to her bed and discuss the day’s events; recalling memories, quietly chatting as our roles are reversed. My mother is my child, my delicate doll with the blue eyes.

And now this. The Big Fall that was always going to happen, no matter how much we loved her. It’s a train wreck and we are taken on a ride no one bought a ticket for. This nightmare of old age that refuses to leave.

With life, comes death. My mother is teaching me gently, still.

 

My mother, my living doll.

By , January 30, 2013 11:19 pm

My elderly mother stands over my bed and whispers in my ear. ‘Are you awake?’  ‘Not really’, I mumble. I can see she is smiling at me, even though I am asleep. 

It’s 5.20am, and I remember that my mother is actually critically ill in Rockhampton, 700kms north of my home. She was admitted last week after a horrific fall that shattered her thigh bone. Osteoporosis and old age; it ain’t for sissies.

The doctors tell us: “she’ll never walk again, never be able to bare any weight on her leg.” They delicately performed her first ever operation, gluing her “mushy bones, like nailing sticks of butter” back together.

Mum is 93 years old; a widow for nine years, a soldier’s bride, and the mother of us four rowdy adult kids and enough great-grand children that we gave up counting them.  She grins, reminding us, “I started all this mess!”

The family gathers.  We sleep in our old family home, in a disarray of mismatched pyjamas and t-shirts, ready to spring into action; to drive to the hospital.  We listen for the telephone, every inch of us straining to hear, ready to pounce. Exhaustion takes its toll on relationships. Siblings squabble. We snap and leave rooms, words unsaid. We huddle and cry, wring our hands with helplessness. We cook; shop; eat; going through routines. I can taste nothing, but chew methodically, and swallow.

When the phone does jangle us awake we leap with angel wings to grab the receiver before the second ring.

At the hospital, mum is sleeping. We wince at the sight of her, and her poor, injured leg. Gently, we rub her feet. Tenderly, we kiss her cheek, her face, her forehead. Each day more bruises appear on her arms. She has so many tubes and needles and veins and black and purple marks, it hurts to count them all.

Nurses come and whisper to us. My medically trained sister and niece translate doctor’s talk for the rest of the family, so we understand. We stand in dismay at our situation. No one wants her life to come to this. This is not what was supposed to happen.  Fighting our inner voices, we gather and pray for her life to end. Struggling with moral choices.  Is it wrong to want your mother to die? Priests are called, and we are grateful.

We sleep like flighty horses, our flesh flinching and quivering with each disturbed noise. We discuss her life, remembering old memories, laughing at our own contributions. Gently, gradually, we come to accept. She fights on, grimly breathing and trying not to cough.

Only weeks ago, I bathed her. We dutiful daughters had taken over the task of showering her after she became agitated with the daily rotation of the different home visit Nurses.  No matter how cheerily they would arrive to care for her, it became too much. “So many new faces” she would say, and blush with shame. She’s a proud, private woman.

Undressing her is an art in itself; gently removing her trousers and shoes, unbuttoning her floral blouse, being careful with her arthritic bones.  “Here mummy darling, just move your arm a bit.” We speak to her like a toddler, our own living doll to play with.

Our mother is a very intelligent, but physically frail woman.

I know every inch of her soft body. Every curve of her dowagers hump, every unidentified lump, every wrinkle and fold where once smooth skin lay pale, unseen.  We inspect her for bruises.  Her delicate, paper-thin skin demands our full attention. Gripping the handles we have installed with trembling hands, the fear of slipping and falling frightens us the most. It’s constantly on our mind, the elephant in the room we cannot avoid. Already, she’s broken her wrist, and once slid off a chair when her dressing gown proved to be slippery on the leather seat.   I powder her chest, easing on fresh clothes and walk her gently to her bedroom. Now fully dressed, she lays on top her bed, exhausted. “I’ll just rest a while” she says, her eyes closed.

Bathing mum gave me opportunity and wisdom to see hands-on old age and dignity. It taught me patience and respect, returning my mother’s love and care.

I stand next to her bed and discuss the day’s events; recalling memories, quietly chatting as our roles are reversed. My mother is my child, my delicate doll with the blue eyes.

And now this. The Big Fall that was always going to happen, no matter how much we loved her. It’s a train wreck, and we are taken on a ride no one bought a ticket for.

This nightmare of old age that refuses to leave.  With life, comes death.  We wait to become ophans.

My mother is teaching me gently, still.

My Margarita Mother-in-law

By , January 17, 2013 11:13 pm

It’s been two years since I stood in disbelief on her cream carpet, watching the muddy Brisbane River swirl around my bare feet. This is really going to happen! My elderly mother-in-law’s home in Indooroopilly will go under in the flood. We nearly cry, but don’t; it’s pointless.

I stare in disbelief as my barefeet leaves wet footprints on her new, cream carpet.

In the distance, through the windows and past the bending, yielding mangroves, you could hear it. The Brisbane River galloped past us like an unbroken stallion, a monster of a beast, its back hunched with fury and a wild, untamed mane of foam and flotsam.

This house also went under in the 1974 floods, we weren’t rescuing stuff, we were rescuing memories.

Another pontoon breaks loose. A very expensive speedboat is perched on it, gaily sailing down the river; sightseeing, spinning slowly.

She will lose the house that her father built,  the house that her husband passed away in; the place she raised their five children it will all go under, but not her home.  I’ve packed it all away in boxes, for now.

Today my mother-in-law sits in a unit at the Sunshine Coast, reading books until she can motivate herself to look once more at her house plans.

Don’t get me wrong, she was one of the lucky ones. After 17 weeks her insurance company paid up, and she has alternative accommodation at the coast, but her age, she finds it harder each passing week to remain interested and motivated in the rebuilding of her new home in Brisbane.

She’s over it.

The broken house was bulldozed, allowing the vacant land to be covered in weeds. The bamboo grew back, unchecked.

It’s heartbreaking stuff at 78, to start again, but finally she started building in January 2012, after wrestling with Council by-laws, and illogical decisions that would have seen her rebuild flat on the ground. This time the house would be raised, making it flood-proof.

To cheer her up, I make margaritas. “To my Margarita Mother-in-law and your new house!”  I exclaim.  We toast to her good health and hold our glasses high, savouring the iced tartness of home grown lemons. It begins to rain again.

Originally the builder told her she would be in by August. It rains more. We all looked at the calendar in dismay as the months ticked by and there was no sign of the house even reaching lock-up stage by winter, or spring.

“By Christmas, for sure” he cheerily responded, to her growing concerns about moving back, to reclaim her life and once again live amongst her friends and neighbours.

She frets about the rising costs. Can she pay for it all? Tradesmen don’t answer their mobiles. Work slows to a trickle.

We had planned a wonderful Christmas Day, complete with celebratory drinks in her swimming pool. Alas, that didn’t happen. No swimming pool completion. No margaritas for us!

If you ask her about her new house, she will look at you with the saddened eyes of a woman who has been through too much. It’s difficult for her, but the only way to solve this settling depression and angst is to complete the house, and move back to reclaim her family memories, re-establishing her old stomping ground.

It’s heartening to see other flood victims already in their new homes; it’s a special part of our human spirit that we can re gather and build once again, taking on each chore and commitment with enthusiasm and energy. Rebuilding takes an enormous amount of decision making. What sort of light switch do you want? Where do you want it? Every day requires more energy, more decisions, that once made, cannot be undone. It’s exhausting.

I admire people who can make the most out of what nature and life throws at them.  People who live their lives with gratitude, and who hold a glass-overflowing attitude.  I look at my Margarita Mother-in-law’s glass.  Her glass isn’t even half full. It’s just empty. The lemons remain unsqueezed.

 

This was published in the Courier Mail: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/opinion/flood-of-emotion-has-still-not-subsided/story-e6frerc6-1226556052648

The Little Girl Who Lived Far From Home

By , January 14, 2013 6:44 am

The Little Girl Who Lived Far From Home

The Little Girl who Lived Far From Home

By , January 14, 2013 6:09 am

The Little Girl Who Lived Far From Home

Lillian was a Bookworm – The Incredible Story of the Girl who Loved Books

By , January 11, 2013 12:58 am

Lillian was a Bookworm – The Incredible Story of the Girl who Loved Books

By , March 20, 2012 12:07 am

This was written by Rachael Wallace but it could have been written word for word by me.

 

I first thought about taking pictures at funerals when a close friend died 11 years ago. I stood there watching everyone in their smart bright clothes (no one wanted to wear black – too dark, too final), taking in the beautiful flowers, the sentiments and eulogies expressed by friends and family, the glorious spring day with such vibrant colours reminding us of the life continuing outside the cemetery and her husband and sons – in a dream world that day – oblivious to what was going on around them. And I thought how, maybe, it would be good for them to be able to see the people who had turned out that day, from near and far, to show their love and support and pay their last respects.

How perhaps there would be small but important details that they would have missed, such as people’s accessories – special colours the deceased would have loved, the dressing of the church, the smiles on their faces at some of the memories, the respect and reverence from the funeral directors, the special moments and the love reflected all around by the ceremony itself and those attending it.

I knew that by taking photographs on such an occasion would mean breaking an enormous taboo, but I also knew in my heart, that it could be such a great comfort to the bereaved by choosing to have these precious last moments recorded that it would be worth doing. And so it has proved.

Those who have chosen to have my presence at their loved ones’ departure ceremony (and there are many reasons for their doing so) have been so delighted with the pictures that I have chosen and placed in their memory book that they have smiled, and hugged me and I have felt I have brought a little light into their dark times.

The photographs will also enable them to talk more easily to others about their loss as it is far simpler to start and continue a conversation around a book of photographs. In this way the taboo of talking about death is able to be broken down a little more. It isn’t easy. I am met with shock, and revulsion at times when I mention what I do but once I have explained the caring and respectful way in which I work, and how my work aids the bereaved, I have seen people change their mind. Most people think it an excellent idea and a comment I often hear is that they wish there had been someone like me around for their husband, parent, child’s commemorative service but that they felt too embarrassed to ask, or uncertain who to ask, or wanted someone with experience and couldn’t easily find them.

After a BBC radio interview with Anne Diamond I had several people call me to say how pleased they were to hear of the service I offer and was immediately booked by a wonderful gentleman for his wife’s funeral. It has been hard convincing those in the funeral industry of the demand for such a service, and I think it sad that there are still few out there who know it can be arranged, but I feel sure that before too long it will be a common thing on the list of requests offered when planning a funeral. I feel proud and honoured to be present at such personal occasions, and I know that the books I produce are of great comfort to people. And that, ultimately, is the service I am offering at a time of great need.

http://www.goodfuneralguide.co.uk/2011/11/why-funeral-photos-are-so-important/#comment-50991

She said: “When a person is grieving they do not notice what is going on around them and who is there because they are so busy on the day.
“By creating an album of photographs — a memory book — people can see all the people who turned up to wish their loved one farewell.
“It is helpful afterwards and is a nice focal point for people to think that the book is coming. Some people cry and some do not but it is amazing to sit with people and go through it. It is very healing.”
Mrs Wallace says her job at a funeral is to seem invisible.
“It is so important to be really discreet and sympathetic,” she said. “I creep around with my two cameras, trying not to make a noise and get in the way.
“I do not take photos during the prayers, or of people crying, and I try to look for a moment of happiness in the eulogies.
“I will do ‘open casket’ if requested and that does not bother me.

http://www.henleystandard.co.uk/news/news.php?id=1069109

 

 

Sing a Song for Lillian

By , February 13, 2012 2:43 am

Sing a Song of Lillian

Cowboy Calum and the Big Secret

By , February 13, 2012 2:27 am

Cowboy Calum and the Big Secret

Calum is Cooking – a birthday book for my nephew

By , February 13, 2012 1:49 am

Calum is Cooking

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