In a Vase on Monday- Flowers for Joan

I started growing cut flowers, and writing about them, when my mother-in-law-Joan was diagnosed with dementia. Joan loved flower arranging- she did the Methodist chapel flowers for 65 years. It was a passion we both shared. I instinctively knew Joan would start to forget me, and by taking flowers each week, I hoped to hold on to her for as long as possible. To keep a connection going. It was all I could think of. Before lockdown, Joan started to forget my name. But she never forgot the names of the flowers, and my posies gave us something cheerful to talk about. It gave Joan confidence. She could chat about a subject she understood when everything else in her life was confusing. Lockdown was an agony. I tried to send letters. Phone calls were too distressing, Joan couldn’t understand exactly why we couldn’t visit. Hearing loss caused further upset. I sent photos and updates about the family and her grandchildren. Leicester remained in localised lockdown, and the care home where Joan lives with her husband Keith, was within the extended lockdown area. So it was more than six months before we were able to visit.

And these are the flowers I took to Joan. Daisies have always been her favourites. The yellow rudbeckias came from some roots I saved when we had to sell their house. They lived in the same house, brought up three children, and enjoyed their garden for 63 years. The whole family worked together to help them live at home for as long as possible. But dementia not only steals memories of friends and family, eventually it takes away the ability to do even simple tasks. It was heartbreaking to watch Joan try to make a cup of tea. And yet she still wanted to try, because she loved looking after us. I really looked forward to popping around for a cup of tea and a piece of cake. Her cake tin -before dementia- was always full of flapjack, coconut chocolate squares, and fruit cake. I often write the recipes here on the blog so they are not lost in time. Joan made my life happier. She always cared, backed me up and sympathised, helped where she could. I miss it. I miss having someone who would always stop what they were doing and just listen. Some things in life cannot be changed, but to have a sympathetic ear makes all the difference. To have someone always on your side. I’ve been lucky, I know. I was so determined to hold on to Joan, but covid defeated me. On our visit, I could hardly breathe, hoping Joan would recognise me. But she had no idea who I was. And I wasn’t even allowed to give her the flowers. It’s against the rules. Even a simple bunch of flowers could be deadly. The virus could be on the stems where I’ve touched them. So after showing her my flowers, the care home staff asked me to lay them on the garden path, where they stayed, looking as lost and forlorn as I felt. I don’t disagree with the rules- the staff have an unimaginable job to keep everyone safe. But I feel sad that my small bunch of flowers couldn’t go on Joan’s bedside table to bring her some joy at this difficult time. I’m updating you all, as you have followed my journey these past few years and kept me company whilst I’ve pottered about my garden and tied up my bunches of flowers for Joan. It’s been a comfort to share my thoughts on here. I’ll not give up, of course. As soon as I’m allowed, I’ll take flowers again. There will be hellebores and scented hyacinths at Christmas, catkins and forget-me-nots in spring, and roses and daisies all summer. In a care home, it’s easy to lose touch with the seasons and Joan loved visiting my garden. She enjoyed the beauty of flowers and the countryside around us. Let’s hope we can make up for lost time soon.

Rudbeckia Goldsturm (black-eyed Susan) flowers from July to October and cut flowers last ten days in a vase.

Verbascum nigrum grows to 1.5m on the vegetable and cut flowers plot. Spikes of bright yellow flowers emerge all summer. Pollinators love the flowers too.

Achillea millefolium (yarrow) grows in a small patch of wild flowers, sown from a packet of mixed seed last summer.

There’s oxeye daisies, with wild carrot flowers as a pretty filler. The carrot turns green as it goes to seed, perfectly matching the green rim around the centre of the daisy flowers.

If you look carefully, you can see the tiny hearts of Capsella bursa-pastoris or Shepherd’s purse. There’s hope, and lots of love, in this small bunch of flowers.

Thanks for reading.

In a Vase on Monday : https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2020/09/21/in-a-vase-on-monday-also-rans/

41 thoughts on “In a Vase on Monday- Flowers for Joan

  1. Karen we are a team: you understand me and I understand you. That is a good friendship. Accompany and help the other when they need it: we always do. Much love to everyone and thank you for your words. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita xxx 😘🙏🌼🌼🌼

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    • This is true. We are a team. Doesn’t matter the distance between us. It is only miles. We share a common aim to help others and therefore help ourselves in the process. Take care of your dear mother. Lots of love to you and yours. Very affectionate greetings from us all 🌼💛🌼🙏 xxx

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  2. Pingback: Update: Flowers for Joan. September 2020 | Bramble Garden

  3. Such a sad post to read, Karen – my heart goes out to you and your wider family. I know how hard it was for all of you when they were still in their own home, so them having to go into the care home and the house being sold after all those years you have shared there was a real wrench – but dementia must be the hardest of all, doubly hard with the added restrictions that Covid has brought. The flowers you picked and arranged were lovely and while Joan was still making a connection with them there must indeed have been hope, but now you no longer even have that opportunity. Take care and stay strong Karen, as best you can

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    • Thank you Cathy. And thanks for hosting the IAVOM meme which has been so helpful to me all these years. It’s given me a circle of friends – outside of my immediate family and local friends – and given me somewhere to voice my fears and speak about problems out loud. Covid has added another layer of worry and stress on top of dementia. I shall go on growing my flowers for Joan. I might stand in the car park and wave them from outside the window. Or I might not. I can’t decide. I hope that one day soon, visits will be allowed again, and we can all make up for lost time. Xx

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    • Thank you Eliza. No I won’t give up. Despite all the difficulties covid puts in our way, I’m looking at new ways of trying to connect with our elderly relatives. I’m sending videos of the garden to start with. Thanks for reading xx

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  4. Dear Karen, that must be heartbreaking after waiting so long to see Joan. I can’t imagine a virus can be transmitted via flowers, but there are many other strange regulations in place that make no sense to me as well. I do hope you can visit again soon and take more flowers. It will help you perhaps more than it will Joan, but I think you need to do this. Take care Karen. All the best. xx
    Oh, and the flowers are gorgeous!

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    • Thank you Cathy. It’s been a difficult time for all of us. You too must miss your parents. I do hope they are keeping well and coping with everything. Tell them I’ve bought some new hedgehog boxes for the winter, and today I’m creating 5 new hibernation zones around the garden with boxes, twigs, logs and heaps of leaves. It’s good to focus on the things we can do, and try not to dwell on the things we cannot change. The day after writing, an e mail arrived from the care home. There are no more visits, due to rising covid numbers in the uk. We can stand in the car park and wave through a window. Or we can attempt video calling. Thanks for reading. Love karen xx 😘

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      • Thanks for asking about my parents Karen. I will tell Mum about your hedgehogs. They have kept busy too, with lots of projects including a whole front garden remake: a big tree had to come down and now Mum has a sunny spot to fill and is having fun trying to source plants. 😃 It dawned on me today that I will probably not be able to viist them at all this year, but our Facetime chats have kept us going.

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      • Thank you Cathy. FaceTime chats are great aren’t they. Except my Mum keeps saying how pale and thin I look, which makes me put makeup on now before ringing her!!! 😂 xx

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  5. Karen forgive me for not writing to you in such a long time, it’s a long story: I’m sending you an email to tell you about it. Now the important thing is you and your dear mother-in-law Joan. Karen it must have been hell not being able to see Joan for 6 months: I am so sorry with all my heart. You will have had a very bad time and more with Joan’s hearing problem that you could not even speak on the phone because she did not recognize you. Karen all my strength and my friendship are with you to help you. I know that Joan before she had dementia was your friend, you leaned on her and she was a very important person in your life, and for Joan it was reciprocal. When she became ill with dementia, the whole family went out of her way to take care of her at home, you the first, bringing her flowers every week. But there came a time when your care was not enough, she needed expert care and you had to make the hard and sad decision to take her to a nursing home, surely the best, to take care of her. But she did not go alone, she went with her husband Keith, who had also been ill and needed care: the two are together. Karen for you was a hard blow, I remember. You visited her every week bringing her a divine bouquet of flowers and more flowers to decorate the nursing home. Then you had to sell Joan’s house: it was a sentimental catastrophe. With all the time that you and Joan had spent in her garden, thank goodness you saved some plants and took them to your garden. Then the Covid arrived and destroyed everything: 6 months without seeing her. Now at last you can visit her and prepare her with all your love a wonderful bouquet of flowers with the daisies that Joan loves so much, yellow Rudbeckias saved from her garden, Verbascum nigrum, yarrow, wild carrot flowers and Capsella bursapasteris: I love them all the flowers are divine. I love the bouquet. Karen you go with your magnificent bouquet of flowers made with all your love to see your beloved mother-in-law Joan and you cannot give it to her, just show it: it would be a direct blow to the heart. I am so sorry with all my heart. But the Covid hygiene regulations are drastic so that they do not spread. Although you could not have given her your wonderful bouquet of flowers, Joan has seen it. And it has not been abandoned in the garden, your love for Joan has remained in the garden of the nursing home where she lives. Never lose your strength or hope and keep making beautiful bouquets of flowers with love for when you go to see Joan, even if she can only see them: I’m sure she will love to see them and see you, Karen, because I think with flowers He will recognize you when he sees the bouquet, even if only as long as you have the bouquet with you. And Joan carries you in her heart, although sometimes she does not remember you. When the Covid ends and you can see her again and bring her flowers and give them to her, little by little she will recognize you again and talk to you about flowers. Don’t lose that hope. Karen I hope you and your whole family are safe. Take good care of yourselves and keep yourself safe. Loving caresses for Grace, Meg and little Monty. I send all of your family, Mr B and you, Karen, all my love, all my support, all my strength and I wish you all the best. Greetings with love from Margarita xxx😘😘

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    • It is wonderful to hear your voice again Margarita! I have replied to your e mail. What a time we have both had! We will emerge from this the stronger I am sure. I really appreciate all your loving works and kindness. It means a lot of me. And that you have taken the time to reply to me when things are difficult for you. It means a lot to me. I will not lose hope. I’ll have to re-think my strategy. My idea worked for quite a long time- Joan knew I was someone close to her, even though she didn’t know my name in the end. She knew I was someone dear to her, and she would ask what relation I was to her. But this visit really nearly killed me, as there was not the spark of any recognition and try as I might, she didn’t know me. I shall patiently keep trying, as you say, to keep a connection. But I know I have lost her. The only solace is that Joan is with her husband in the same building, although on separate floors as she is with the other dementia residents. And we did everything, everything we could to keep them at home until it was no longer safe for them to be there. Even with a 24 hour carer, one would fall upstairs, while the other was putting an electric kettle on the cooker and almost causing a fire. It needed a team of people to keep them safe. But I will honestly never really get over having to move them from their beloved and only family home. They moved there at the start of their marriage into a brand new house, and brought up their children there. To disassemble all their treasured possessions – while the were still alive. I can’t really say how dreadful that felt. It haunts me to this day. Take care my dear Margarita. Returning all your loving greetings. All my love – and hugs from us all, Monty, Meg and Grace and Mr B. Take care and also be strong ❤️😘🙏 xxx

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      • Karen must be horrible, terrible for your heart that Joan can no longer recognize you for her dementia. It’s all the fault of the disease: don’t feel guilty about anything, you haven’t done anything. Karen you keep talking to her like always and bringing her flowers when you can. And keep making a bouquet of flowers for Joan every week and place it in the place you like the most: don’t stop doing it, she deserves it. Joan and Keith couldn’t be at home anymore: it was dangerous for them. It must have been extremely painful to take them to a nursing home, but you have chosen the best one, and they are treated by first-rate professionals and give them the care they need. To undo the house of a lifetime with so many memories will have been very painful, and more during Joan and Keith’s life. Karen I understand your pain when having to see the contents of your in-laws’ furniture to empty them, discover so many secrets and memories, it will have been hell with what you want them. But it was necessary to sell the house: life has cruel things but you have to do them yes or yes. I try to put myself in your place, and my heart hurts a lot, but the wound will heal little by little. I will help you to do it with my friendship and always accompanying you to give you encouragement and so that you can talk to me and get rid when you want. I send you a lot of love and a lot of hope. Much love for your whole family, Mr B, Grace, Meg, Monty and for you. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita xxx 😘😘🙏💐💐

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      • That is so kind of you Margarita. I’m smiling as I write this. What a difference it makes to have someone who understands. Returning your kindness and sending encouragement and love to you also. It feels like we are a team. We can get through anything life throws at us, if we feel we are not alone with it, and we keep focussed on the future and doing our best. Enjoy the weekend. Keep smiling. Lots of love. Affectionate greetings from us all xxx 😘🙏🌼🌼🌼

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  6. Dementia is a heartbreaking condition Karen both for the sufferer and those who love them. It was so hard to see my Dad who had been a primary school teacher lose his ability to read and write when he had taught so many children those very skills. It sounds as if Joan is in a safe and secure environment and I imagine that this is probably harder on you and your family. Such difficult days for you to navigate in the most difficult of times ((())) An absolutely beautiful bunch of flowers – thank you for sharing them with us.

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    • Thank you Anna. So sorry to hear about your Dad. Joan was a medical secretary until she was 67, then she volunteered at the village Help the Aged shop, sorting through the donated clothing and serving customers. She used to say she had got to help the elderly, and we used to laugh as she was well into her 80s. She just didn’t consider herself to be old. You are entirely correct. Joan and Keith are in a first class Methodist care home. It’s a new building with a green roof and big spacious rooms with massive glass windows, and it has the most wonderful garden looked after by volunteers. They have a full-time entertainer who does songs and games with them, and very regular services with a visiting Methodist minister. I used to love going there for afternoon tea. Home made cakes, and everything as you would like it to be. So no, I’m sure they are missing us, but they are being really well cared for. I’ll come to terms with things, I’m sure. Thank you for reading and for your sensible advice, which I value, and for your kind words, much appreciated. Today I’m picking apples and pruning the orchard- keeping busy – as Joan did all her life. Which is taking my mind off any sorrow.

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  7. It sounds like Joan has a ‘happy dementia’. (It’s a phrase a doctor used about Ma-in-law).
    My iPad or laptop worked wonders on visits. M-I-L loved cloud formations, loved to see what was happening in the community throughout the seasons, including flowers, agricultural shows, boats on the sea, and so on. Our holiday trips were another memory aid for her, not that we went to any of the places she had lived in The Middle East. The extended family could visit then, so I focussed on capturing daily doings and scenes of interest.

    When I think back to what we were able to do to stimulate interest, lift M-I-L out of a depressive period with a visit from a borrowed pet rabbit from a friend, and I see the health and safety restrictions in care homes for the elderly and infirm now, (and maybe not so elderly too), I do wonder how M-I-L, would
    have fared. The extended family would have been very distressed too. Priority, of course, must be given to the safety needs of staff and residents, but understanding that and operating within the guidelines is tough. xx

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    • Thank you. True, safety absolutely is a priority. The staff have worked so hard to keep covid out of the home and to keep our relatives safe. We are so grateful to them for that wonderful care. Joan – and all her family- have always been law abiding, rule- following people, and so we completely agree with the regulations banning presents of any kind including flowers. In truth, I was annoyed with myself for not realising the risk before taking them. But I was so looking forward to seeing them, and getting back into some kind of routine, I didn’t realise a small bunch of flowers would be any danger. Since writing this piece last night, I’ve had an e mail saying further visits are cancelled due to the rising covid risks. We can look through the windows, or have video calls. Thanks for reading, and I’ll try your i-pad ideas. I have to keep trying. xx

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  8. A post filled with love and reflection. I feel for you, and was quite astounded that flowers could not be put in Joan’s room. I wonder that any florists are allowed to make arrangements and for people to buy them?

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    • Thank you Noelle. I must admit, I didn’t realise flowers were banned. We received an e mail the next day listing all the things not allowed, including presents and flowers. Today, I’ve received an e mail saying garden visits are cancelled due to the rising covid numbers. We can look through the windows, or do video calls. I shall have to keep trying, but it’s not going to be easy for any of us. Thanks again for reading and for your kind words. It’s been helpful all along the way.

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  9. Oh Karen I do feel for you. Does Joan have a ground floor window she looks out of? Would it be possible for an outside table to be placed there or outside a community space she uses so that your lovely flowers could be out in a jam or mason jar so she could see them?

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    • Thank you Ella, yes Joan has just been moved to the ground floor so she has access to the garden. We couldn’t leave the flowers there as she might forget that she’s not allowed to touch them. I’ve just received an e mail saying garden visits are now cancelled due to the rising covid numbers. We can look through the windows or do video calls. I’m re-adjusting to this and thinking how I can just show Joan the flowers on the computer or through the window. I’m determined to keep a contact. Even if she just remembers me as the girl who brings flowers.

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  10. Oh hon from a fellow Karen, you are not on your own. My Nan had dementia. It is a very cruel condition and that along with Covid, at the moment, makes life very difficult. It’s a blessing that you were at least able to show your gorgeous bunch of flowers.

    Hold onto your memories and when you’ve the need to ask questions, as you would’ve with Joan, think what would Joan do/say/think…

    Let’s hope you’ll soon be able to leave flowers for her to enjoy again.

    You could always start keeping a baking tin for times of need x

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    • Thank you Karen. So true. I’m readjusting to thinking I can just show her the flowers and take them home after. I’ve just had an email cancelling any further face to face visits due to rising covid numbers. We can look through the windows or do video calls. I shall tackle the technology needed to do this. Wish me luck! Thanks for reading and for getting in touch with your suggestions. All very welcome.

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  11. I’m so sorry that the virus and the fears concerning its spread have robbed both you and your mother-in-law of some of the time you have left with her. It’s hard for me to understand why flowers would present a risk but I understand that the staff in care homes probably is bending over backwards to protect those they care for and drawing hard lines may be the best way of doing that. Maybe a vaccine will clear the way forward.

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    • Thank you Kris, indeed that’s true. And no criticism is meant for the wonderful staff who are doing an unenviable job of keeping everyone safe. I too pray a vaccine will come soon. Today, face to face visits have again been cancelled due to the risking covid numbers, we can look through the windows or do video calls. I’ve got to re-think what to do next, but I’ll never give up. Thanks again for reading and for leaving a comment. It’s much appreciated.

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    • Thank you Anne. I know everyone’s suffering at the moment. Youngsters have missed school and being with their friends. But the elderly have missed out such a lot as well. As you know, this is my first experience of dementia. Such a cruel and sad illness. Utterly heartbreaking for everyone. Thanks for your kind words. x

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