Poppies and Parkinson’s

In the advanced stage of Parkinson’s, Ernie’s handmade poppies became a symbol of his hope and determination. His daughter Jill shares his story. 

Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in December 2012. He was a ‘doer’. His whole life was spent making, mending and creating. Even as Parkinson’s began affecting his independence, he kept going.

After retiring from his work as a maintenance engineer, Dad took up cross-stitch and was excellent at it. But eventually, its intricacies became too much for his fingers, and he needed another task to keep him busy.

As a lay minister for the Church of England, I was planning our armistice centenary service. We needed some cut-outs of poppies and leaves for a display that people could write messages on. Could Dad help?

Soon, he had created enough poppies for an entire display, complete with leaves.

In 2016, Dad fell and broke his shoulder, but undeterred, he kept going. He did well with physiotherapy. 

The following year, Dad began experiencing further falls and complications. As a result, his confidence faltered. Because of this I decided to leave my job to support him full-time, and to help my mum with her own health problems. 

We all wanted Dad to remain in the familiar surroundings of his own home with Mum. But the complications he began experiencing meant he would start spending more and more time in and out of hospital. 

Dad was eventually diagnosed with Parkinson’s dementia. He then had a fall that caused him to become trapped in his bathroom. The paramedics (who came out during heavy snow) were so kind, as were the fire service, although they did put the bathroom door back on the wrong way around!

He soon earned a reputation for ‘speeding’ on his walking frame once he’d got his feet into gear.

Dad now needed equipment at home and we needed extra help from home care workers. It felt like everything was changing so quickly. But, undeterred by it all, and despite his difficulty with buttons and crisp packets, Dad’s poppy production began again. He was able to cut out the flowers and leaves so accurately and neatly.

His dogged determination also meant his physiotherapy was going well again, and he soon earned a reputation for ‘speeding’ on his walking frame once he’d got his feet into gear.

On the afternoon of December 2018, there was yet another fall and hospital admission. Dad was convinced it was just bruising, but X-rays revealed otherwise. His hip was broken and he needed surgery. It meant we had to start making some difficult decisions about his medical care. 

Dad was with us for Christmas Day. His ‘cheeky’ grin was still there as he opened his presents, although it felt to us like he was disappearing before our eyes. Dad died, at home, on the 8th of January 2019, just 3 days after his 80th birthday.  

His service was very well-attended, and we celebrated his life well-lived. Many people in attendance knew about his famous poppies, which were put on display again. And we managed to raise money for Parkinson’s UK. 

Ernie’s legacy is one which urges us to never give up hope. For Dad, hope was always there. He never stopped believing that one day there will be a cure. I’m sure that one day, when we hold hands again, we can say together “it’s been found!” For us as a family the poppies had told their story.