In February 2021, I made a video call to my mum in her room in the nursing home where she lives. This was the first birthday I have not seen her in person, and despite the cards and flowers and gifts, she was very low. When I asked her why she was sad, she pointed out that she had not left her room in almost a year. Since the start of lockdown on 16th March 2020, she had not been allowed out of her room. Her last outing had been 7th March 2020, when I had taken her to buy a new chair, walking frame and shoes.
It struck me how unfair it was. While I understood the necessity of keeping mum safe, I wondered about the cost to her. At eighty-six, she has a limited time to enjoy her life. Although she is limited in her mobility, she loves to visit art galleries and museums, be wheeled around the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh, and have a beer with her lunch. To see her so sad and lonely made me angry. It felt as though she was living in prison. I knew that many more families were feeling the same way as the Facebook page “Lifted Dementia Support Group” pinged constantly. Loved ones passed away without family at their side.
When relatives were finally able to visit, initially, it was window visits which were impractical when mum lives on the first floor. To speak with her, we had to phone her and ask a nurse assistant to put the phone on speaker. Progress was made in the summer when we could have outdoor visits, but we had to sit two metres apart so she still couldn’t hear us. If the weather was bad, the visit was cancelled. When we finally got an indoor visit, again, we were two metres apart and dressed in a plastic apron with mask and gloves. No touching allowed. My frustration and anger informed the work on show here.
“Who Cares ???”
A constructed 3m3 room with windows on three sides, open on the last side. Inside the room are four windows on separate stands approximately 2m high and 1m wide. The windows were free on marketplace. On the windows hang digital images printed on silk organza. The images are of relatives of the Dementia support group who responded to my request for photos taken during window visits to be used in my work.
I hope this piece conveys the isolation of a care home bedroom, of the sadness of visiting through a window, of lives fading away behind closed doors.
Ravel is a contranym. It can mean to knit together or to unknit. This piece consists of my mother’s knitted squares, made during her long solitary hours during lockdown. Knitting brings her some time to reflect on her memories. There are nearly one hundred squares made in a variety of colours and materials. Some are stitched together as a long strip, some in the beginnings of a blanket, many more are left in piles. The knitting has no purpose other than passing time. With the knitting are my mother-in-law’s hands, cast in white marble Jesmonite and epoxy resin. My mother-in-law has dementia, and her hands are never at peace. They are usually searching for and playing with a tissue.
This piece hopes to convey the discomfort of ravelling memories for one person, whilst knitting brings peace and comfort in the ravelling of memories for another.
82 A4 photos machine stitched together. Grey satin binding with cotton threads attached. Quilt is made from old family photos of my mother-in-law in her youth. I found these photos in an old suitcase and I was curious to see the woman I know when she was young. I discussed them with her in the hope she would remember more of her past. Some photos were of interest, but then I realised that her memories of these times have become lost, and she was mixing things together to create new stories. Confabulation is common among people with dementia when a new history is created amid the truth.
These photos are not part of my history, but they are full of familiar faces, of family and friends that were part of a large extended group to be found at gatherings and parties. By printing them onto tracing paper I transformed the texture of the photos. They became translucent, like my mother-in-law’s memory. Coating them in PVA transformed them again, making them brittle and fragile, again like ageing memories.
I stitched them into a quilt as dementia had once been described to me as having a blanket of memories with frayed holes and so I created my own blanket of confabulated memories with holes. Cotton threads hanging from the binding symbolise unravelling and hanging on to memories by a thread.