As I was sitting holding Mum’s hand in the hospital, I thought of all she meant to me and the number of times she had held my hand. I pretty much knew this was the last time she would do so.
Mum had dedicated decades of her life to being the best mother and grandma she could be. She could knit for England, and was sure nobody in the family would ever go cold, even knitting a 13 foot long Doctor Who scarf at one point. She also became a prolific cake baker and decorator, being commissioned to make many birthday and wedding cakes for family and friends, always artistic and creative.
Around Christmas in 2012, her partner Michael told us all that Mum had started to become increasingly forgetful and disoriented. It soon became evident that she couldn’t be left to do even simple things such as washing the pots. At least, not if you ever wanted to find any of them again.
She would often spend weekends at our house, to give Michael some respite from watching out for her. But the constant toll on his wellbeing became evident in 2014 when he had two minor heart attacks. Following an operation it became impossible for Michael to maintain full care of her. We were both in full time jobs; I was away from home a lot. So sadly she moved into a care home.
In the late eighties Mum’s mother Gertrude was diagnosed with dementia and also moved into a care home. It had always worried Mum that this condition might eventually strike her, and she didn’t relish the thought having seen its effects first hand.
Mum was diagnosed with vascular dementia and initially didn’t react well to being in care. She became agitated and aggressive to the point where she was briefly sectioned. But once the correct medication was prescribed she settled into a wonderful nursing home, near where she had lived with Michael and where she was born.
After Mum died, once I got home, the experience flooded out of me as a poem. It almost wrote itself. I read the poem at her funeral. How I got to the end of the reading I don’t know. I guess she was holding my hand one last time.
I shared the poem afterwards on Facebook, and many of my friends who had lost someone to dementia commented how much it struck a chord with them, with many sharing it themselves.
I’d originally written it specifically about MY Mum and MY experiences, but on reading it back I can see how it would fit for so many. As I read it now it gives me strength, and I wonder if perhaps it could give strength to others.
So I give this poem for all to use and share as they see fit.
Those hands that once held mine
(by Dean Harrison in memory of Patricia Shelton)
When I was knee high, I was immortal
Because my Mum always held my hand
I knew no harm would come to me
In this, the safest place in the land
Her hands were always there to guide me
To show me where to go
Her hands were forever knitting
To keep us warm in Winter’s snow
They were there to wave me off
Each morning when I left for school
Because you know she wouldn’t let me
Grow up to be no fool
As I started to grow older
I would walk of my own accord
And those hands once there for safety
Changed roles to encourage and applaud
Later when I took a hand in marriage
With new little hands to hold in mine
She was always there when needed
To take their hands and give us time
For many years they still held strong
Wrapping presents as each birthday came along
Giving out big hugs at Christmas
In the growing family throng
But then they started to become unsure
Not remembering what to do
So I knew that it was my time
To hold her hand and help her through
We walked so many miles
In corridors hand in hand
I just hope that in her own mind
We were walking in the sand
But then that week I held her hand
And it slipped away one last time
And now they’re in a better place
Those hands that once held mine