COUNTING SMILES (Part I)

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I used to absolutely love watching Michael Aspel as a child.  When he swooped in with that big red book and announced ‘This is your life!’ I was fascinated by these ‘celebrities’ and their histories, their relations and relationships, their careers.  Even when it was someone I didn’t particularly know or have much interest in I would watch avidly, – as their life unravelled.

I always wondered how my life would play out.  How would my book be filled?  What did I have that I would be proud of?  What friends would come out of the woodwork?  Who have I had a positive impression on?

The same goes for obituaries.  I have a morbid fascination for those too.  I am always touched by the lovely things that people write of when remembering loved ones.  We all do it.  Whenever we lose someone our minds scavenge all those amazing moments that we spent with that person; the times we shared, the advice they gave, their laughter and the smiles that they raised.

Writing my Mum’s eulogy was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done.  A wonderful woman who dedicated her life to her family and friends, to me.  She taught me so very many things, and she did such a lot for others; she cut their hair, she made them things, she helped them, she was a great listener and she made them smile.

I’ve been distant for the past few months, floundering since losing my Mum, that one very stable and constant in my life.  Moreover, helping my Dad through his grief, and my children through their first major loss too.  Looking for answers, talking, finding a way to carry on through.

It’s no secret that my Dad has struggled.   This very able and independent, strong father figure, who I have always looked up to, has become an older man and a shadow of his former self.  A big part of him disappeared with Mum.  As days drew into weeks and months, I knew that my Dad was taking things particularly badly.  The grief was deep set, understandably, but he wasn’t doing anything to counteract that grief, that abandonment, and more worryingly,  in a lot of ways I could sense him giving up on himself.  He started to lose track of things, forget things, make some silly mistakes, some judgement errors. I researched grief and memory problems, spoke to friends, spoke to doctors, but no one listened. Everyone seemed to say the same.  ‘He’s grieving, give him time. ‘ Apparently it was all part of the process.  Through all the sleepless nights, I remained unconvinced.

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I have three young children, my eldest with profound special needs and yet here I was worrying for my father as much if not moreso than them.  I don’t have any other close family.  I’ve felt for months now like it was ‘me against the world.’  I had to pursue my concerns. I had to be heard, so I pushed, and I pushed, and I pissed a lot of people off.  I started to think it was me losing my mind.  I was so stressed and forgetful, my organisational skills have taken a nose dive and things were starting to slip.  I knew I wasn’t coping, I was forgetting things, I was overwhelmed, I was constantly tired and with any number of aches and pains and minor ailments….I was run down.  Was it just me?

After what seemed like an eternity, people started to change tack.  Friends admitted that there had been the odd instance where things Dad said or did were out of character. He’d been out of sorts, he’d shown confusion, or he’d done something silly, he’d forgotten a date, blanked a friend in the street.  Things got progressively more bizarre and in some cases worryingly dangerous. My Dad was becoming vulnerable and unstable.  Whenever I wasn’t with him I was worrying myself into an early grave, but at least people had started to take notice.  It took a lot of planning, and a great deal of persuasion on my part, but eventually I convinced my Dad to visit his doctors with me and despite their shrugs and non-committal, but with my abject persistence, I managed to get a referral to the Memory Clinic.  It was anything but easy.  There was a great deal of waiting and more weeks of worry.  Especially when I myself desperately wanted to be proved wrong.

Anyone who really knows me will tell you that I’m the most impatient person in the world… ever!  So waiting for appointments, which took months, waiting for tests, more weeks waiting whilst my Dad absentmindedly avoided or rearranged appointments and then more weeks waiting for results, all the while seeing my Dad deteriorate.  It was agonising.  I’ve spoken to friends who have experience of these problems, trying to glean information, coping mechanisms and most importantly reassurance.  I’ve cried A LOT, on occasions I’ve laughed and I’ve worried all the more.

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After endless months of waiting and worrying, at the beginning of this month, I took my Dad to the Memory Specialist for a consultation and finally we were given the diagnosis of mixed dementia.  My Dad has Alzeimer’s and Vascular Dementia.  It’s taken a while for me to get my head around it and I’m no medical expert, but I spoke to a Doctor who put it into succinct terms.  Alzeimer’s is shrinking his brain – whilst Vascular Dementia is cutting off the blood supply. So, it’s a double-whammy and quite possibly the worst possible scenario.

My Dad is in denial.  He thinks that the Doctors are plotting against him and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with him, other than his advancing years. Yet, in another breath, he’s apologising to me for forgetting important things and for being a burden to me – a thing that his presence will never be.  He knows the score, but he refuses to accept it.  Oh and then when he remembers – he forgets!

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I’ve spent the last month driving backwards and forwards the same few roads between my home and his.  I’ve cleaned, I’ve shopped, I’ve paid bills and I’ve arranged things for him.   When I haven’t been with him, I have spent endless hours on the phone trying to get some support in place for him (which is a minefield and a completely different ball game than when I sorted support for Archie.  Different councils work very differently).   I have filled in countless forms, as well as fielding the numerous calls daily, often hourly from my Dad – repeating the same things minute after minute, after minute.

I read somewhere that one of the worst things that you can do with someone who is struggling with any form of memory loss is to challenge them about it or point out their repetition.  So, I’ve just started each conversation as if it’s been the first and not the 12th or 20th!  It’s not easy, and I’m probably losing my mind a little in the process – but I’m learning.  My patience is actually growing,  possibly at the same rate as my exhaustion.

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I’d be lying if I said that everything was going to be alright.  I’m a realist and a really bad liar. I already know that it’s not.  I don’t always get it right, far from it, but I’m neither blind nor stupid, though some may beg to differ.  I do find that on days when I’m at the end of my tether a long ugly cry or sweary rant (out of ear shot of the children) does wonders!

I have been close to breaking point recently.  I’m so run down and I’m thoroughly  miserable.  I’ve been letting myself go to the dogs of late (and I don’t mean the track!) and I hate myself for that.  I do have pride after all.   I miss my Mum like crazy.  Especially knowing that she would handle all this far better than I ever could – with practicality, efficiency and good humour.

So, with her in mind, and on behalf of my Dad, I’m sucking it up, and raising the bar.

When I can’t count on much else in life – I’m counting smiles and making smiles count!

Mayday! Mayday!

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I can’t lie and say everything’s fabulous on Planet S-J because it’s not, hence the late posting. However, what I will say is there have been a few positives this last month – so I’m going to share.  This blog post has meant several very late nights/early mornings and a labour of love – but finally it’s completed!

Blimey … this month started with a bang literally … the house shook and Facebook and Twitter both unreservedly quaked in their boots as everyone felt the tremors far and wide!  Was it an earthquake?  Lightening strike?  Apparently it was the sonic boom of a fighter jet as it made it’s way over Leeds!  Who knew … The earth certainly moved for me… but I wouldn’t go so far as to buying a ‘Sonic Boom’ T-shirt!?* (Yes, I mean really)! As the planes continue to fly overhead, and as the  weather gets warmer, it just reminds me how much I need a holiday and I just wish I could get myself on a jet plane somewhere … but I’d have to prise my sunglasses off my posing daughter first!!

This month might have been the end of the rugby season – but rugby has been the start of something big for my No2 son.  Proud as punch to be nominated as the Yarnbury RUFC’s Under 11’s Most Improved Player of the season.

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Naturally we’re all thrilled with his efforts – but there’s none more proud of his sporting prowess than my sports-mad Dad.

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I’m proud of all his efforts, especially when Jem lends himself to helping charitable causes.  His involvement with  Link Universal and being the face of the Salt & Light Project is developing slowly and fundraising links are now live.  If you would like to support this cause then please feel free to give using your mobile phone via Instagiv by texting LUUK Team Jem to  70660 to make a donation of £5 Or to donate more text LUUK Team Jem£10 to 70660. Or you can donate via Paypal.  The poverty stricken, elderly, children and people with special needs in Romania need our help.  Every penny counts.

I’m afraid with my life pretty much imploding this last year (let’s not even go there), I’ve not managed to be very involved with Horsforth Walk of Art 2016 thus far. IMG_8894

This said, I’ve knit a couple of squares (one with a resident butterfly) for the knitted caravan (a real labour of love that I can’t wait to see) and produced some brightly coloured knitted bunting too.  Next month it’ll be all about the ‘wild horses’ and helping create something wonderful with a renewed friendship between Horsforth St Margaret’s and Penny Field School.   

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I might not have my daughter’s energy- but, thanks to the encouragement of my Fitbit Charge, my kids. and a modicum of willpower. I’m at least trying to help myself.    In no uncertain terms I’m going to have to pull out all the stops to get happy with myself right now…. but I refuse to be defeatist about it.  If it means more walks to school, more trips to the park, less alcohol and a chocolate ban then so be it!

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Despite my funk I’ve still managed to get out and about this month.  The very lovely PR whizz that is my good friend Lady Rach invited me and our mutual fab friend Ann Marie along to the official launch of Mansio Suites – the fabulous new and exclusive apartments in Leeds City Centre.IMG_9080

   Available for short or long stays, the suites are ideal for single occupancy and can also accommodate up to 4 in their 2 bedroomed apartments.  Sleek and stylish these 26 serviced suites are minimalist – whilst offering all the mod-cons including; HD smart TV, Wifi, fully operational kitchenette with integrated appliances and Nespresso machines.  Handmade mattresses by Harold Spinks, an extensive range of Molton Brown  toiletries and a welcome basket of all the essentials you might need during your stay, only emphasizes the luxury afforded to guests.

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We helped yet another charity this month with Archie and his school supporting Radio Aire’s Cash4kids.  He dressed up as a rather fetching super hero (which with just a few minutes notice I was pretty proud of).  I’m so proud of my No1 superhero and it’s always good to support such a fantastic cause.

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We enjoyed a ‘Party In The Park’ for our glamorous  friend Helen’s 50th Birthday celebration (not that you’d guess her at a day over 40)!WP_20160513_002  On a night when I wasn’t feeling 100% (and less than sociable). figuring  we ‘might just manage an hour,’ we ended up in it for the long haul!  It was great to let loose with friends and Helen’s husband had organised for her favourite Leeds band, Hope & Social, to play a set for her.  (For the orchestration of one the numbers he joined them on the kazoo)!  What a great bunch of guys and real talent.  Their own material and the covers they played were equally enjoyable.  I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of them. I’m thinking we may have to seek them out next time they’re playing the Brudenell… I can feel a ‘girls night’ coming on. (Oh and I still think Rich Huxley is like Dick of Dick & Dom fame!)! IMG_0019 (2) IMG_0015IMG_0017

Even more celebrations in the park ensued in the form of the Queen’s 90th Birthday.  A brass band, choir and military veterans made it an experience for children and adults alike. IMG_0035IMG_0053 (2)IMG_0039

We spent the day at Roundhay Park supporting the LS29 Group and indeed Martin’s House Charity at the Dragon Boat Race!  The theme of the LS29 boat was ‘Noah’s Ark’ so we were all encouraged to come as animals.

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Archie’s tiger onesie fit the bill, and Scarlett

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made an impressive Dalmatian until she took her ears and nose off … but I’m not sure your Leeds Rhino’s T-shirt was altogether a massive effort Jem!

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I took Dad out for lunch the other week and discovered Fentimans!

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I’d say a pretty perfect drink on a hot day…. and I’m quite fond of the style glass bottle too.  It seems a little retro to me.

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 The best thing on the box in May has had to have been  Marcella…. Absolutely SUPERB … ITV you excelled yourselves, I’m not sure which was sharper; the plot or Anna Friel’s cheekbones.  The last scenes almost had me jumping out of my skin!  Marcella- what have you done??   If there isn’t a second series then I’ll be up in arms.

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Following the disturbance of Marcella and as I just love a good book – especially a self help book – Emotional Agility by Susan David rates highly.  Give it a go. http://bit.ly/1TZ0Wh3   It certainly opened my mind to change!

I can only mention two films this month – both which have moved me to tears, both different, but with a sentimental theme.

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I was invited to the first UK preview screening of Me Without You in Leeds and couldn’t have been happier.  I dragged my girlfriend along – even though I wasn’t sure it would be her cup of tea.  I was desperately excited – but also incredibly apprehensive – worrying that the film wouldn’t do the book justice.  I needn’t have worried on either count.  Emilia Clarke was perfectly cast in the leading role, as was Sam Clafin.  Have to say I was thrilled to see my Aussie hearthrob Steve Peacocke (of Home and Away fame) in there too, and Matthew Lewis played Patrick with a wonderfully calculated comedic edge (he’s come such a long way since Harry Potter). (Local boy done good).  I was so pleased that the humour shone throughout- possibly the most important element for me, considering the subject matter.  This said, that didn’t mean I didn’t have to reach for the tissues on more than one occasion.  Ann Marie and I were scrabbling about for tissues and snivelling throughout. Please tell me that they’re working on the film rights for the sequel too??

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Go see it- you won’t regret it. Take tissues… in fact take lots!

The second film I watched is only 4 minutes long and I’m going to share it with you here. It’s a gem of a film from Germany and has been featured at 180 film festivals and won 59 awards.  The makers have had offers from Disney and Pixar and it’s easy to see why.  Just 4 minutes of your time … ENJOY 🙂 http://bit.ly/1X9eqwO

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I’m lucky to have some terrific friends who think of me and mine often, and know me only too well.  My ‘sista from another mista’ recently gifted my daughter (an avid reader) a set of Enid Blyton books that we’d both read as a child and gave my No2 son The Pocket Dangerous Book for Boys.  They couldn’t have served us better.  Already we’ve expertly made paper hats, tied knots and have lots of other exciting discoveries on the horizon.  Thanks so much pal.  When you’ve so very much to deal with yourself – it means the world to me that you’re so thoughtful. My children are hugely appreciative and can’t wait to tell you themselves. xx

Until we find out what’s up with my inners… I will endeavour to keep on walking, doing and exploring with my troops.

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he joy and inspiration of a FitBit means that we’ve walked and  explored, rambled and meandered all the more … It’s definitely having a positive impact on my mental well-being (I swear the men in white coats are permanently camped around the corner), but it’s yet to make an impression on my body.  Phhhht!

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In the absence of natural perfection I’ve been faking it – with a whole lot of lovely pampering by the girls who can.

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My gift to myself this month was a half’s day pampering at Tranquility Day Spa with my gal pal Alex where I had a luxury manicure and luxury pedicure, as well as having my brows and lashes primped and tinted.  The girls there are super lovely and do a terrific job.  Thanks so much ladies for helping me to get the best out of my ‘me time’ and for helping me feel good about myself, against all odds!

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More praise goes to my gorgeous girls Ann Marie and Steff – without which I’d be truly bonkers!!  Just a couple of hours in their company with a mug of herbal tea, some fruit skewers and a great deal of honesty and laughter and I feel almost human!

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As life ploughs on through the tough stuff, which in my case appears to get progressively tougher, my children regularly encourage me to stop, take stock (hug it out) and try to get a grip – however difficult that happens to be.  I think I’m going to have to draw on this in the months to come and hopefully tap into their seemingly endless energy too.

Deep breath… let’s see what next month holds.