I am not an expert on Dementia, so why did I write a children’s book about it?

Some time ago, I attended a garage sale that resembled a deceased estate sale, but the elderly lady owner was alive and about to move to a nursing home. I sensed her pain and anguish as she watched her daughter sell items to bargain hunters. Her precious heirlooms paraded from her house, leaving me feeling uncomfortable. However, I did find a beautiful scenic photograph of a farm that I liked. I asked the lady and her daughter if I could purchase it and hang it in a special place in my house in memory of meeting her. The elderly lady nodded. Meanwhile, my sister beelined toward a bowl of seashells. When she asked if she could purchase them, the elderly lady’s face contorted. “Not my precious shells!” I could tell there were some important memories in those shells. Memories she wanted to stay connected with. My sister and I understood and told her it was important that she keep those precious memories.

Memories connect us to moments of love – moments that can be treasured.

Keeping special mementos can help trigger those memories and aid with those connections.

Many years ago, I watched a short movie called “Peege”. An elderly lady called “Peege” is living with dementia in a nursing home. Every Christmas, her family visits, but it’s always uncomfortable. They speak to her condescendingly and only talk about their own happenings and achievements.

When the family is about to leave, one of the grandsons stays behind for a moment. He tells Peege that when he was a little boy, her laughter used to make him really happy. He leaves, not sure if she understood him. The camera then shows Peege’s face, and her smiling expression shows that she did understand, and it meant a lot to her. Those memories enveloped in loved created a connection.

This movie moved me a lot and stayed with me all these years.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of helping a ten-year-old girl, Anna (not her real name), who talked about her experience with her avô (grandfather), who was living with dementia. Through the tears, she told me of her pain at seeing him that way and was broken-hearted when he forgot her name. Remembering the Peege movie, I asked her what was something that connected her with her avô. She said they loved playing pool together and that he was the king of pool. Her tears welled again as she told me he no longer plays. I asked if she still played. She said no. I told her about the movie and the grandson and finding small ways to connect. She brightened up and felt like she had a glimmer of hope to take away with her.

On my subsequent encounter with Anna, she said she played a pool game with her dad. She told me that the sound of the pool balls at the opening break brought a smile to her avô’s face, something she hadn’t seen in a while: a small connection, a precious moment.

I wanted to write her story in a picture book. The result ended up being a rhyming poem, which I gifted to her. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in getting a publishing offer.

The idea for a different story emerged when I read about dementia. The neuro-pathways and connections in the brain fall away in dementia. In my mind, it seemed similar to dropping a stitch in knitting. Voila – a whole new story came about, with memories and sentiments of the elderly lady at the garage sale, the Peege movie and my experience with ten-year-old Anna and her avô, ‘Dropping a Stitch’ was created.

As I mentioned earlier, I am not a dementia expert, but I have had many encounters with children who have a loved one living with dementia. So, this story is not so much about dementia but about the emotions around having a loved one living with dementia and ways of reconnecting. It’s about children not feeling alone with the grief they experience. It is a story that focuses on the small but significant things.

As Lorraine Horsely (author of ‘When You Left’) says in her review of the book. “Dropping a Stitch is a gentle, poignant tale tackling the big emotions around dementia. It reminds us that no matter what is forgotten, love never forgets. Through love, we can still connect.”

Love always finds a way to connect.

Dropping a Stitch

Milli loves visiting her great-grandma Ninny at her new home where other grandies live. Together, they are knitting a coat for Milli’s little dog, Poochie. But lately, Ninny isn’t well. She often forgets things and stares at the walls. Milli learned from her dad that Ninny is living with dementia. Milli’s heart is broken into a thousand pieces when her great-grandma can’t remember Milli herself. But one day, while Milli is knitting, she has a pleasant surprise when Ninny notices she drops a stitch!

Dropping a Stitch is a delicate story for children trying to understand their relationship with a loved one living with Dementia.

Dropping a Stitch

By Steve Heron

Illustrated by Marika Monesi

Published by Dixi Books

ISBN: 9781913680657

RRP $19.95

Publication Date: 01/09/2023

Available at many good bookshops

or purchase here: Dropping a Stitch – Steve Heron

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