Yesterday my (almost) mother in law Sheila died. She had been battling with dementia for the last few years which had seen her bubbly, whitty personality change. She became more confused and frustrated mostly due to fear of not knowing what was wrong and also lack of understanding. Being able to understand a condition gives you the power to learn and knowledge to fight it but as it slowly takes you away that itself is the battle of remembering.
When someone says mother in law you hear the horror stories, they scary, they bite and will hate you no matter what as you will never be good enough for their son and maybe initially I had a harder battle than others due to the age gap and situation but I was myself, daft chatty, clumsy and always left them with a smile (I think a good smile even if really thinking did she really just say or do that….)
So I never met a dragon, does that mean I did well? Yes I think so we chatted about both our regular hospital visits, my craft which kept me sane even if it drives my partner insane my untidyness but he knows it makes me happy and is a distraction from my own daily battles and use it to make others smile. Also would show her pictures of my nieces as I am a very proud aunty and she would always ask about how they were and giggle at the photos and videos of them being rascals. I do think in the end she thought I was a mean (almost) daughter in law though as I think she thought they were my children and I never bought them to see her!!!!
But hopefully I allowed her a good trigger memory at Christmas, I heard she liked Channel perfume and due to her age it would have been an older version, but it appeared there were 2 different possibilities. So mission accepted to try to locate the correct perfume and to see if would help with memories and more importantly add a smile for the day. I managed to find 2 possible scents and one set came with a hand cream and she always liked to have soft hands and feel things between her fingers, so I took the plunge and went for that. Christmas Day I found out it was the right choice as her face lit up as she struggled to tear the paper and recognised the brand name and then the bottle and remembered ‘ooh posh!’ But it wasn’t until she could smell the perfume and you could see the memories return and flick past. I was so nervous as it wasn’t clear if the perfume would trigger good or bad memories as smells can do that can’t they, but I was lucky. The hand cream was great as it meant that she could still feel glamorous and get the magic memory hit too.
So having avoided the fire breathing, daggers and other things which could have happened we laughed and yes did take the mickey out of my partner frequently (sorry) hearing stories about what he did when he was little, sadly towards the end those stories become few and far between and more confused, but she would always try and get a dig in and try to remember where the embarrassing pictures were!!!
So fire breathing dragons might be real for some but me Sheila was not fire breathing, great to chat too and we had the same sort of naughty sense of humour, she sadly was too poorly to hear about the naked butlers (a friends hen party) as she would have loved hearing about that and no doubt would have loved an invite and laughed and passed comment on seeing the pictures!!!
Sheila last week I bought something for you and also began to develop an idea to try to help you and many others with dementia and other degenerative illness’s as well. Sadly you never got the chance to see it, it was basic and not designed for adults but something to allow sensory touch. It has inspired that creative mind of mine to create something to help others and don’t worry I will make sure that I do your memory justice and find a way for smiles, memories and triggers to be created and maintained as well as touch anxiety being eased, sorry you won’t get to share the moment but your the memory behind it.
Sleep soundly Sheila, you hung on and battled hard and finally went to sleep as dementia week began – it’s message is do something new and at the moment it will be raw for her sons and family will be doing something new, learning to cope without their wife, mother, nan and grandma.