Autumn Leaves are falling down

Autumn Sunrise with low fog
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My alarm goes off around 7.30 am, regardless of what day it is at the moment. I know mum does not get up for at least another hour, so this is MY time, time to reflect and time to enjoy the splendour of nature at my own pace.

 

It has been a hectic, sometimes stressful and confusing year for me so far. Hence why you have not seen much action here either. After a fairly uneventful Summer I travelled from Australia, into Spring in the Netherlands mid March, where my cousin was waiting for me to help her get organised, in case a bad situation would eventuate with my elderly mum, to be prepared for everything. We found a fitting nursing home with a large garden and arranged as much as I could fit in the 4 weeks I stayed, like meal deliveries, meetings with care staff, doctors etc., to keep her living independently as long as possible, along with spending time with mum as well.

Upon returning home in Australia late April I got a phone call the next day, still groggy from jet lag, after which I found myself working an extra 5 nights a week, while trying to catch up in my garden at home and get that ready for my absence during Winter and work in the nursery part time! Well, no rest over Winter either, with record snowfalls, more lodge guests than ever, and keeping my promise from last year to my manager then, of attending more ski training this season! I had to leave a week before closing of the lifts, to fly back to the Netherlands for mum, who had deteriorated badly over their unusually hot Summer.

So here I am, finding myself utterly confused after Summer followed by Spring, followed by Winter and now in Autumn, but thankfully healthy and well. Something I unfortunately cannot say about my mum, who is physically doing very well, but mentally in need of full time support.

 

I swiftly throw on my ‘trackies’, hoodie and sneakers, over my pyjamas to keep the chill of the early morning out and quietly sneak out of the door. I am so glad mum chose to live at the edge of a small town in the Netherlands, from where it only takes me a few minutes to walk the street that brings me to the paddocks showing the Sunrise in full glory. I savour the wide open space, still in peace and quiet this early in the morning, especially during the weekends when work traffic is absent.

When I walk I focus on my surrounds, nature waking up along with myself and my body. It is easy to get sidetracked during the day and fall into bad habits in regards to posture, but during the stillness of the morning it is easier to focus on walking with a straighter back and shoulders relaxed in the right spot, arms swinging loosely in harmony with my stride. It feels so good to take a deep breath full of life’s most important energy that somehow feels more rejuvenating at this hour than the rest of the day.

 

I take many deep breaths during the day as well, but most are for the purpose of keeping my sanity and composure while mum asks me the same question for the 30th time in an hour and still fails to understand my calm explanation. She easily gets upset when this happens and I find myself repeating to her many times that it is ok and that all is organised and will work out just fine.

I know she just hasn’t got the synapses to connect the dots any more as dementia is slowly stealing her mental abilities. I also know that giving her an answer calmly with love is important, despite the seeming pointlessness, because she will ask me again in a few minutes. Important, for it gives her a feeling of being heard, loved and respected. I am sure she feels that I care for her as she still treats me like her daughter, even though she gets confused and thinks I am still in Australia, and much younger than in reality, lol, if only… Occasionally she believes me, mostly she puts her ‘stubborn hat’ on and is convinced I am telling her fibs. Reality does not make the same sense to her as it used to.

The way I mentally deal with the current situation is reminding myself of the old quote a Buddhist monk told me, that if I CAN do something about it there is no need to worry and if I CANNOT, why worry? Another one that helps me mentally is from Wayne Dyer, that it is NOT the situation or circumstances that stress people out, but the thoughts created about it. I take one step at a time and file my upcoming responsibilities in my phone, which gives me a beep when something pops up that needs attention.

 

The one thing that still cheers her up and takes her away from her worries and suspicions that everyone is out to deceive her is Nature. She really calms down and comes home a different person. I am so glad about this, as it is so good to see her marvel at it’s beauty too when we go for an afternoon stroll in the nearby forests on the milder days. It is ‘nature therapy’ for both of us! We stop and look at the many mushrooms showing themselves and we walk the leaf covered paths surrounded by old deciduous trees in beautiful Autumn colours. Something I have not seen much of in the last 15 years when I have always visited around her birthday in Spring.

Autumn Trees

Autumn Trees

We pick up a few treasures to take home and arrange in a shallow pottery dish on the table, acorns, pine cones, a few leaves and a tiny feather she found with the most vibrant blues. I take photo’s of the mushrooms, better left in peace where they are. Besides, my knowledge of them is insufficient to know which ones are safe to pick, let alone any names.

She still walks unaided and really well for her 87 years, but I am carefully monitoring her gait to see whether we should keep going, or returning to the car soon. Surprisingly she generally knows her way around quite well, despite being bad in many other ways. It is a blessing now that she moved back to the area where she grew up when dad was still with us, because she retained a lot of her older memories so far.

Mushroom coming up among Autumn leaves

Mushroom coming up among Autumn leaves

I am always fascinated with these little surprises of nature, here one day, gone the next. Perhaps it is the shortening days and decay all around that makes me feel melancholic. For a moment I think about the issues at hand and cannot help but see the fleetingness of all we take for granted. A hint to make the most of, and be grateful for each day we are blessed to experience.

Mushroom covered tree trunk

Mushroom covered tree trunk, found off the beaten track

Red and white mushrooms

Spotted these red and white ones only on passing a second time, surprisingly, as they are quite striking

I ponder about memories, which are not much different. As we walk along our lives we collect and grow them, we treasure and share them, but when decay sets in with old age, they are like the falling leaves of Autumn, we drop them slowly one by one on still days, or many at once when a storm hits….

I am so GLAD that my own ‘tree’ still has many leaves that, for now, are securely attached.

Leaf covered road

Leaf covered road

Feel free to comment 😉

With Gratitude,

PollyEsther

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PRECIOUS TIMES

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“I can’t find the keys anywhere, how is that possible?” Mum asks me several times a day. Another one is: “Have you closed your window?”, every time we leave the house. The keys are quickly found in the usual spots she puts them down automatically without thinking or registering. The room I am in does not have an opening window at all, but I assure her every time that the window is shut.

Three years ago was the last time I flew to the Netherlands to visit mum, family and friends. It was a busy, fun time with several parties and a primary school reunion, creating many happy memories. At the time she also had her 83rd. birthday. She was a little annoyed that she was struggling to remember all the names of the plants and flowers in her garden, but I guess when you get to that age, you should be happy to still be physically fit enough to be able to enjoy working in your own garden.

Late last year my cousin, who keeps a close eye on mum for me when I am in Australia, which is now home for me, emailed me concerned that I should be thinking about another visit soon, because mum was confusing her, me and her daughters names badly when they looked at some old photos. “If you leave it much longer there may be a chance she will not remember who you are!”, she said…

So here I am, visiting again, making sure not to miss her 86th birthday and making the most of what time we have left together before she loses her memories altogether. My cousin and I are busy talking to her doctor and care staff and making arrangements for her future behind her back. It feels wrong, but what choice do we have? She is convinced that she is fine and does not need any help yet. I guess in some ways I do agree with her, as she is still very alert and swift to respond to the traffic when driving her car on familiar roads. She is still capable of putting in a fair effort maintaining her small and well manicured garden and we both enjoy looking at the birds she feeds every day and squirrels that like to steel some of the birds’ crumbs when no one is looking…

But…at the same time she keeps losing things around the house, convinced that the care staff is stealing from her all the time. She only trusts a very small number of familiar people she knows well, thankfully including me. Others she treats with suspicion, fear and mostly verbal aggression, occasionally raising her fist to emphesize she is serious. The memory lapses come and go with me thinking she is indeed fine at times, but then at night when tired she looks at me and tells me she finds it strange to think that she has a daughter at all… Physically she is doing very well for her age, mentally it is becoming a real concern. She functions ok when she is able to stick to her routines that have become almost compulsive. When it is disturbed she gets very upset and stressed.

There is a lot she does not understand, like why she has trouble with her tummy when she stresses, as she does not remember she has been suffering from Crohn’s disease since before I was born, probably set off by a stressful period in her life not long after she got married due to circumstances out of her control. She also has had other inflammatory issues ever since.

While making my plans and arrangements for my journey to see her I asked an internal question and the answer came in the form of a book called ‘The Grain Brain’ by Dr. David Perlmutter who describes how and why most of her issues could likely be the result of food sensitivities, with the main culprits possibly dairy and gluten. The fact that my own minor inflammatory issues eased after starting on a gluten free diet and cutting out milk convinced me even more that his theories and findings were of value. I decided to ask her doctor for some tests to see what the results would be.

After living with her now for well over a week and observing her obsession with her routines, I sadly have to make peace with the fact that she is too far gone to change… She does not understand it when I have to tell her every night again that I do not eat custard for desert any more. When drinking tea she keeps offering me biscuits and looks puzzled why I only want special gluten free ones and refuse to eat the normal ones she keeps offering. She thinks that I must be very ill not to be able to eat all those ‘healthy’ traditional things and need special bread for lunch, despite my best efforts of explaining why. She does not understand… Every morning she makes the table and places a plate for me to eat my toast that I have not had for breakfast for years. I love my goats milk yoghurt with gluten free cereal and some fresh fruit like a mandarin and/or banana added, along with a black coffee.

She cannot see that I do not need hours any more to wake up every morning and look and feel healthier than when I was in my twenties. She does not remember how badly I suffered from several allergies and was always tired and often sick with every bug that came around, while I was still eating like she does now.

It is difficult listening to the same stories every day and hearing her complain about being tired and her tummy playing up. It is difficult, but I have to be at peace with the facts and make the most of what little time we have left to enjoy our walks in nature and spend time asking all the questions I have not before that I would still like to know before she does not remember the answers.

It makes me sad to see her like this and knowing that with a few changes and additions to her diet she could possibly be free from all her old health issues as well as slow, stop or even improve her declining memory, but you cannot force her to eat things she is convinced would make her feel sick in her stomach.

I am glad however that she still remembers to place an extra plate for me even though I really need a bowl. I am glad that we are able to enjoy those little things now I am here with her, like walking in nature, playing indoor lawnbowls, cleaning the autumn leaves from her garden together, watching the nesting birds around her home and the squirrels stealing the birds bread crumbs…

P.S.
I am sorry my dear Dutch friends, that this time around I will not take time to party with you, nor run around to visit everyone I have not seen for three years. Maybe we can arrange a meeting on a Sunday afternoon somewhere in a pub for a few hours, later during my stay, where everyone that wishes can come to say g’day before I head back to my duties and work in Australia. For now I intend to make the most of my time with mum. I hope that after reading my story you will understand…

With Gratitude, PollyEsther