Flowers are the first thing we think of when we want to pay tribute to someone. Today’s flowers are in tribute to the Queen, and also my mother-in-law Joan. Two people from the same generation, both in their 90s, both sharing the same values in their love for their families and their sense of duty, loyalty and service to the community. Very different lives lived, but the same values and beliefs.
For the past six years I’ve been writing about growing cut flowers for my wonderful Joan who suffered from dementia. We shared a love of flowers and flower arranging, and my hope was to keep a connection for as long as possible. Flowers were my only weapon against dementia. There’s no effective medical treatment. It’s the cruellest of illnesses. It deprives the sufferer of one of the main comforts of old age, the knowledge that they have a close and loving family. Faces and names are simply forgotten. There was such sadness when new grandchildren arrived and Joan could not join in our excitement and joy in the latest additions to the family.
I want it written down, as a record of our times living through the covid pandemic, that we struggled to keep a connection with our relatives suffering from dementia in care homes. During lockdown, we couldn’t visit at all, and agonisingly, Leicester stayed in lockdown for months after the rest of the country opened up. Then, after lockdown was over, we stood in car parks, waving through the care home windows. We were not allowed in. I’ve got these moments indelibly printed like postcards in my brain. Memories I can’t seem to forget. When we were eventually allowed to visit, it was in the garden only, with everyone wearing plastic aprons, blue plastic gloves, masks and face shields. It’s no wonder anyone with dementia would fail to recognise the person sitting two metres away, not allowed to hug, voices muffled from the masks. Time limited to half an hour. For someone with poor eyesight and hearing, it really must have been impossible to understand. Saddest of all, was the decision that no presents could be taken in, flowers included in this rule, such was the fear of passing on the virus. So my last tiny hope of Joan recognising me was gone. There is absolutely no criticism of the care home. They didn’t make the rules. They cared for our relatives in the most magnificent way, and we will always be grateful for everything they did. Life for care home staff must have been unbelievably hard as they tried to keep everyone safe.
So today, the connection between the Queen and Joan springs to mind. The Queen because of her 70 years of service to her country. She was someone I greatly admired. Steadfast, loyal and hardworking. Joan too, from the same generation, cared first and foremost for her family, but also quietly and without fuss or expectation of reward, undertook charity work. Joan volunteered for Age Concern until her late 80s and she also helped with fundraising at the Methodist Chapel in Cosby. Joan particularly loved creating flower arrangements for the chapel and her husband Keith played the organ for every Sunday service and for weddings and funerals. It must have been over 60 years of service for them both. Joan was always making cakes or knitting something for chapel fund-raising. She knitted hundreds of teddy bears when the chapel launched an appeal for sick children of Chernobyl. She wanted them to have something to give them comfort during their suffering.
Today, the Queen leaves her home, Buckingham Palace, for the last time as her coffin travels to Westminster Hall for ‘lying in state’ ahead of her funeral on Monday. Joan too is making her last journey today. Her ashes are being conveyed to Skiddaw in the Lake District. She will join her husband Keith at last. His ashes were taken there in August last year. A wild and beautiful landscape they both loved. May they all rest in peace.
Thank you for following my flower-growing journey. I have been a bit lost these past few months. I felt as if grief knocked me to the ground, and I haven’t been able to get up. However, I’ve watched fascinated at the activity following the Queen’s death. There have been so many ceremonies and procedures, her children and grandchildren haven’t had time to stop and think. Maybe this is the answer and a way to deal with death- keep busy and do something. When Joan died, I felt defeated. After so many years of trying to ‘think of something’ there was nothing else I could do. Now I’m ready to start again. Maybe I could volunteer at the care home in the garden. I’ve already put together a box of seeds and plants to donate to the garden.
And my flower-growing will continue, but for a different, happier reason. My youngest daughter is getting married! I have decided to grow and arrange the flowers for the wedding, and I can’t wait to get started. I hope you’ll continue to join me on this new journey I’m making in life. And I hope you have enjoyed the flowers I’ve grown and arranged, shared here as my tribute to the Queen and Joan today.