Project 7 introduces the Theme Book. I have chosen Ageing as my theme.

My initial focus is Nancy*, the mother-in-law of my friend Agnes* (* not their real names). Nancy is in her late 80s, and has been a resident of a high level care aged home for over two years. While all those involved are trying to do their best for Nancy, there are aspects of her situation that I find dreadful. In the words of my tutor, Pat Moloney, the theme has “potential for  developing ideas with  strong emotive qualities, which could  be  both quite challenging and exploratory”. I don’t know where this exploration will take me, and I don’t know how much I will choose to record privately rather than share on this blog – but I want to challenge myself, not other people. So I’m planning to put most of my thoughts on this page rather than as posts on the general blog.

WARNING – some of this content may cause distress.

Please use your own judgement, protect your peace of mind, and don’t read on if you are likely to be offended or upset.

My initial thoughts about this choice of theme were posted here. It included this photo of the view from Nancy’s bed in the nursing home. The home is set on the side of a hill and Nancy’s room is on the top floor – level 2 by Australian counting (which goes Ground, level 1, level 2). It’s light, airy and faces north (good for light in the southern hemisphere). I need to try to find a photo of the view from the balcony of her home – sweeping 180° views across southern Sydney to the ocean in the distance.

A photo of the standard issue woven blanket on Nancy’s bed. I asked her permission to take it but haven’t told her what I’m working on. I’ve discussed it with Agnes and her husband (Nancy’s son – I can’t keep track of more pseudonyms). They thought it best not to tell Nancy. This is my preference too, but it makes me feel hypocritical – another instance of people making choices on Nancy’s behalf.

I’ve spent some time looking at the weave structure – leno, with areas of plain and almost basket (?) weave. I think I could weave it, but would have to use doups rather than bead leno, since that doubles up warp ends.

Initial thought is weaving it twice – once in plain white cotton, once in beautiful rich complex colours and fibres – almost like the cacophony piece I did.

DetailThat was rosepath rather than leno. Depending on how the fabric is used I could also try to make a single piece – changing wefts, changing in new warp ends – a sort of time line or chronology of the change from her previous life to nursing home life… say different colours and textures for the various hospitalisations.

16 June 2012

Looking for something else in my sketchbook, I came across this page from March – “beginning to think about ageing, the contraction of one’s space and life, the loss of choice…”.

This drawing is from April (in sketchbook here) and is of a photo of Nancy’s husband. They met right at the end of WWII. Nancy was working in the US Army headquarters in Sydney, he came in for some reason right near the end of the war. (Side note – a fabulous building, info here. I work on the same city block now – should go at lunchtime and take photos and draw).
They had around 20 years together I think. He died aged 49, health issues related to his war service so Nancy is a war widow (side note – do I want to look at Legacy?). I think about the years together they missed, and wonder how he would react to Nancy’s situation.
A rework of the photo as part of Project 6 Stage 3 (appliqué). I’ve left it unfinished in case I want to use it as an element in the Theme work. Nancy has a small print of this photo on her window sill, plus one of herself around the same era. For years she’d said she wanted that if she ever wound up in a nursing home, so the staff would know that she was once a young woman too. I think Agnes scanned the originals and printed the small versions when Nancy had her first long hospitalisation.

28 June 2012

Daisies – some dark humour
This is an example of how good intentions don’t always lead to good outcomes.
A few weeks ago I was planning to visit Nancy and wanted to take a little gift to brighten her room. I went looking for a pot plant – preferably white daisies, since I remembered Agnes talking about Nancy and daisies. I couldn’t find daisies, so ended up with a pot of yellow gerberas (a similar shape, right?).

Nancy was a bit so-so when I first gave the plant to her – her first reaction was concern that she would have to ask the nurses to water the plant, and how would they react to that? I put the plant on the window sill, then explained that I had searched for white daisies, knowing how much she liked them, but had to substitute. Nancy’s face went quite still, obviously searching for words. Then she gently told me that while she is very fond of all flowers, she had suggested white daisies as a flower for her funeral. She thinks their simplicity and un-fussiness would be just right.

I did a sketch of the gerberas before giving them to Nancy.
Following my visit I did quite a bit based on photos of white daisies that I found on the internet.
These images are also in my sketchbook, starting here (I’m doubling up on images, since they fit somewhere between sketch and theme books). The one which was meant to be a hand holding a flower led to this comment in the sketchbook: “Looking of the photo it reminds me of a crucifixion detail. Could that be a metaphor for Nancy’s treatment in the name of society’s mores?”

The View
A while back I asked Agnes if she had any photos of the view from Nancy’s former home. Agnes found a couple of old ones for me to scan. Again doubling up with the sketchbook:
The back wall is basically one long window. This is the living room, basically towards the neighbouring property.

Looking out from the dining room, beginning to get an idea of the district views. The lower left has been fiddled to take out some faces.

Dawn from the balcony. There’s more view to both left and right, and when it’s not hazy you can see beyond the bay to the ocean.

I’ve used one the the photos along with the one from Nancy’s current room on the front cover of the paper-based sketchbook I’ve started. The contrast encapsulates so much of the sense of loss that I have from her situation.
Nancy’s had a couple of brief hospitalisations since she arrived at the nursing home. During one of those she mentioned just looking forward to getting back “home”. She meant her shared room at the nursing home – it wasn’t failing memory or wishing for the place she left in 2009.

Nancy’s story

This is the bare bones version. I might elaborate on parts another day.

Widowed when her children were young, for around 40 years Nancy lived in her much loved home raising her two boys. Son 1 left, married Agnes and started a family. Son 2 has never left home, eventually becoming Nancy’s official carer as her health deteriorated and she experienced increasing difficulty with pain and mobility. The relationship of mother and son became extremely strained over time.

April 2009 – Nancy taken to hospital with unbearable neck and back pain. Stabilised and returned home.

June – August 2009 – Two months in hospital, attempting to address pain and to balance medication. Returned home.

December 2009 – attempted suicide by drug overdose. Hospitalised and placed in psych ward for three weeks. The care provided was totally misdirected for Nancy’s particular situation. Her physical pain was not managed.

January 2010 – transferred from psych ward to acute care hospital.

25 February 2010 discharged from hospital to high level care nursing home.

Nancy’s condition continues to deteriorate. She has spent periods in an acute care hospital following a stroke and because of uncontrolled bleeding. She has had numerous falls due to positional hypotension. Her ongoing pain is not well managed.

I know Nancy has always feared this fate. She is in constant pain, but any additional relief leaves her nauseous. Even if it were legal, euthanasia would not be an option as Nancy does not have a terminal illness – just advanced age, debility and never-ending pain. I believe her suicide attempt was genuine, sane and courageous. We – the medical system, society, her family, I – have denied her the choice, the control over her fate. Nancy has loved a man, and lost him too soon. She has seen her sons and her grandsons grow to adults. There is nothing she hopes for, nothing she wishes for, but death. We all claim to be acting in her interests, this still intelligent woman in a failing body. We insist she live, then provide the very barest, basic, impoverished existence.

I am angry and ashamed.

8 Responses to “Theme page – Ageing”

  1. 1 penmcam June 14, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    I’m looking forward to following your posts on ageing; I can see from what you’ve written so far that you will handle it in sensitive and thoughtful manner and I can’t imagine anyone being offended. Challenged maybe, but that can be an important aspect to art. Penny

    • 2 fibresofbeing June 15, 2012 at 8:01 am

      Thank you! I’m obviously nervous about it, so this is really encouraging. There are a couple incidents in Nancy’s story which I think may be slightly less common and I’m trying to build up a method and some confidence before approaching them.

  2. 3 majorasue June 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    It is sad that some would be offended by exploring the idea of aging. After all, if we are lucky we will age, hopefully gracefully. My mother just had her 80th birthday, and lives independently. Her mother died of Alzheimer’s at the age of 88, so we are cognizant of that potential. From reading previous posts as well as this one, I am sure that you will be thoughtful in what you share with us.

    • 4 fibresofbeing June 15, 2012 at 7:33 pm

      Thanks for your comment. While wondering how to reply it occurred to me that perhaps _I_ am the one offended by ageing. Maybe I’m projecting all of this. I think that’s part of it, but another part is around the choices available to people as they age. I’m pretty sure I’ll be writing about euthanasia, which I think could be very confronting to people who thought they were going to read about weaving drafts or textile studies.

      I hope you’re able to have lots of good times with your mother over the coming years. My mum and I go on holidays and meet up at the art gallery and have various shared projects. I feel closer to her today than ever before, and I’m very aware of how precious this time is.

  1. 1 Separate theme page « Fibres of Being Trackback on June 14, 2012 at 9:00 pm
  2. 2 Project 6 Stage 3 – part 2 « Fibres of Being Trackback on June 16, 2012 at 6:16 pm
  3. 3 Nancy’s story « Fibres of Being Trackback on June 28, 2012 at 11:55 pm
  4. 4 Vale “Nancy” | Fibres of Being Trackback on February 14, 2019 at 6:09 pm

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