“Joyce’s Daughter” – the label is sewn by hand into every gift bag Sheryl Rasmussen creates. Each bag holds a card that tells the story behind the label.
Joyce Edwards lived with dementia for the last 20 years of her life and therefore her family lived with it too.
“The name came from people who knew my mother over the years and then at the care home,” Sheryl explains. “‘You must be Joyce’s daughter,’ they would say.”
“As I sat with my mom, I thought about what I could do for her as a tribute. We both loved fabric and sewing. While she could go out, we went to clothing stores just to feel the material – as cotton, wool, flannel – and a spark would be there for a second.”
Fundraising with friends also produced a spark – of inspiration. Every year, Sheryl and her friends get together for Frock Swap where clothes are exchanged, wine is imbibed and funds are raised to combat cystic fibrosis.
“We started Frock Swap to help a friend and her family. It was something small we could do to make a difference and it’s been going for about 15 years. Last year, I brought gift bags to our Frock Swap and talked over my idea with my friends. That was the beginning.”
Over the years, Sheryl made gift bags for family and friends using leftover fabric from Couch Potato, the furniture store she and her husband owned on Pemberton Avenue. Since 2009, when they sold the business, Sheryl has relied on thrift stores for fabric.
Wherever she shops, Sheryl heads for the remnant bins first. “I make limited editions, just four or five bags of different sizes in the same fabric. And in memory of my parents’ generation that didn’t waste anything. I recycle tablecloths and clothing, anything with interesting fabric. I recently found Our Social Fabric (oursocialfabric.ca) a non-profit that recycles fabric, notions and sewing equipment back into the community.”
Joyce’s Daughter bags are beautiful and useful, made in an envelope design with a button closure. The buttons are chosen from Sheryl’s collection which now includes her mother’s and grandmother’s buttons. That single button makes every bag unique and meaningful.
Joyce Kathleen Hall turned 20 on June 8, 1948 and Elved Diamond Edwards turned 23 on June 9. They married in Winnipeg on June 26, 1948. During their life together, Elved provided for the family financially and Joyce ran the family.
“My mother was master of the household. That was her job. Our job was being the kids. If Mom wasn’t painting our bedrooms or making curtains, she was in the kitchen or out in the vegetable garden. We had a big freezer and shelves of preserves. I’m picturing the canner on the kitchen counter and piles of fruit from the Okanagan. I can hear mom saying, ‘The peaches we get here aren’t a patch on what we’d get back in Winnipeg.’”
Joyce and Elved enjoyed ballroom dancing and travel. They golfed and curled with their friends, in a group they called the Six Pack Club. Elved was the life of the party. Joyce loved to let him shine.
When her memory began to fade around 1998, which was also their 50th wedding anniversary, Elved helped Joyce continue to live her life. They carried on for more than 10 years, until Joyce needed more support than her husband could provide and residential care became the only option.
“Living with dementia was devastating for both of them but they made the best of it, like people of their generation do. Dad made looking after mom into his job. When she went into care, dad visited every day. She couldn’t talk any more, but dad knew everyone there and always included mom in the conversation.”
It took enormous energy to muster the patience and attention required to support Joyce’s fading connection to him, her family and her life. Elved found the strength to do that, and to make a life for himself too, scheduled around those daily visits.
In 2017, in the 69th year of their marriage, Elved died. Joyce followed him on Jan. 29, 2019, dying of natural causes complicated by dementia.
“The label says ‘Joyce’s Daughter,’” Sheryl says, “but really it is Joyce and Elved’s story because they were in it together. Making the bags is my passion project, my tribute to my parents. Like the Frock Swap for cystic fibrosis, it’s an easy and rewarding way for me to help. So many families have stories similar to ours. Supporting them in small ways like this makes the contribution personal. I hope this story inspires others to find their own ways to help.”
Joyce’s Daughter gift bags sold out at the Ferry Building Gallery at Christmas last year, and are currently available at Red Horses Gallery in Dundarave. All proceeds from sales go to the Alzheimer Society of B.C.
Should readers want more information about Joyce’s Daughter, or to talk about their experience with dementia, get in touch with Sheryl Rasmussen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. Contact her by phone at 778-279-2275 or email her at email@example.com.