When I tell people my mum has dementia they invariably say,
“Does she still know who you are?”
She does when I hug her and hold her close and tell her I love her. Her brain may not remember my name but her body can feel that she loves me. I know it.
The gift of dementia is that I have had four years to say goodbye to my beautiful mama. Four years to create new memories and remember some of her old ones. To hear the same stories again and again so the family history is firmly locked in my brain until it is my turn to fade away.
Four years to hold her hands and tell her that she is still a devoted mother. Four years of visits to calm the madness rush of single mother life in my head while I put her hand in mine. Four years of quiet afternoons to sit with her in silence while I rub hand cream into her old dry hands. Four years of cups of tea and bickies. Four years of running away from the nursing home in tears with a broken heart while remembering all the small ways she loved me. Four years to be reminded how she cared for our dogs, yelled at me over homework, washed our clothes, fed us endless dinners and sang in the kitchen.
Mumma loved her career before kids but she loved us more. Her four kids and seven grandchildren were her life’s work. Having our family was the greatest joy of her life.
Four years of stories shared with whoever else came to visit. Four years being able to take in her I am your mother and I’m not going anywhere fierceness, and four years to realise that I don’t care any more about our differences, fights over my clothing and hairdos and politics, I feel grateful that she cared enough to argue with me.
Four years to look at old photos and realise what she built for us. Four years to be reminded that she introduced me to Stevie Wonder and Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald and taught me how to sing.
My mum interviewed Squizzy Taylor and met Frank Sinatra and talked to colourful Sydney racing identities and was invited to all the best parties when she wrote the social pages. And still my dad, my brothers and sister and I and our kids were the best part of her life. Not all kids get to have a mumma like mine.
Some families have their loved ones snatched away in an instant, but I’ve had time to be with her and hug her tight and tell her how much she means to me.
In the past year she has wet her pants and worn her clothes backwards and spilt dinners and tea all over herself. She has let her hair go and not worried about matching her top with her skirt. All the petty little problems of life have slipped away and all that remains is that my mum’s face lights up when my kids and I walk in the room. That is love.
I know my dad is coming to get her soon, they will get to be together again and I have to remember that on the days that I’m missing her so much that I can’t breathe.
My mum was from a family of godbotherers, devout Anglicans who often quoted the bible. This is the only verse I remember from years of reluctant Sunday school attendance (Corinthians)
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Today I want my loud, laughing dad back from “death’s dateless night,” so we can guffaw, have a whiskey, eat too much food, carry on and argue. We’d have the cricket on and talk about the current parliamentary debacle, the Wallabies, travelling in Europe and the heartbreaking turmoil of the people trapped on Manus and Nauru. My dad would be wearing his heart on his sleeve, we would fight about something important, cry, forget about it an hour later and have another wee dram. I want to talk to my dad about his painful childhood, about growing up without a father, about how lonely he was and give him a huge hug because he survived and created a life for us that he could only dream of as a child growing up hungry.
I inherited your devotion to books, your sense of humour and your belief in the beauty of our fellow humans. It’s been 16 years and I miss you today and every day Jack Ernest. Wish you were here…
“Your love will live in my heart…”
My dad would have been 92 this week, but his body didn’t want to stay around that long. He was a devoted da and a workaholic. He taught me:
*To do what I love for a living (he wrote/edited over 100 books)
*Travel opens your mind
*A sense of humour will help you in the darkest days of your life
*A good swim in the ocean can clear your mind
*Hard work is good for the soul
*A tough childhood doesn’t define the rest of your life
*Even if you haven’t had your own dad, you can achieve a lot
*Dancing a slow tango in the kitchen is magical
*Kids raised by single mums are tough
*A full fridge means you are doing really well
*Stray dogs are worth rescuing
*Some days we must get up and go to work even when we think we can’t
*Singing love songs is great for families
*Lovingly made freshly squeezed orange juice is better than an expensive restaurant breakfast
*Taking your kids back to your old childhood haunts opens their eyes
*Listening to the stories people tell you will help you learn about the world
*Love is a verb
*Singing to your kids at bedtime may soothe them or freak them out
*Saying yes to new opportunities is scary but worth it
*Never let the truth get in the way of a good story
16 years without him have gone by in a flash. I would sacrifice a few of my toes to see one of his cheeky smiles, hear his laugh and have a hug.
My dad was the Prince of Kings Cross
Last Sunday I posted a picture of me wearing a T-shirt with the words
REAL MEN PAY CHILD SUPPORT
emblazoned across it. There was a big reaction. Some men reacted with the predictable ‘not all men,’ and one friend responded like this,
Nothing but a walking sperm donor, he doesn’t get to be honoured with the title of DAD. I have nothing but respect and awe for the strength and perseverance you’ve shown in being both mum and DAD. Too bad some other men are so fragile as to think you are talking about them.
Another response was,
When men who don’t pay child support are shamed, they tend to retreat from discussion and challenge on the subject. They go into a defensive stance that blocks out even mild inquiry about their responsibilities, let alone an outright attack on their claim to manhood.
Which made one poster so mad, they said,
Why don’t the good men encourage these men to man up to responsibilities?
Can men can hold other men to a set of values? The ‘men’ I know who dodge paying for their kids have no values and feel no shame, they’re not capable of it. And their families don’t hold them to account. They come from a long line of men who avoid responsibility and any kind of admission that their behaviour needs to change.
When a woman lives in constant financial stress, lying awake night after night wondering how she’s going to get by, worrying if the electricity is going to be disconnected, knowing she will send her children to school with sniffles because she doesn’t get paid if she takes a day off work, her kids suffer. The children become stressed because their mother is not present. She’s not focused on her kids, she’s too worried about how she’s going to pay the rent and when she’s going to get a good night’s sleep.
What annoys me most is the people who aid them. How does a ‘man’ go from earning $120K per year then within a week have a taxable income of $28K? How does a ‘man’ declare a taxable income of $19K a year when his rent and bills total more than $30K? How do these liars sleep at night?
I understand not respecting or trusting your ex, but making your children suffer? I don’t get it.
Gen X are overwhelmed, no wonder the divorce rate is so high
As my 87 year old mother’s brain drifts further away into dementia, I realise that I don’t have much time left with her.Yesterday my kids and I took her for a lovely beach walk in a place where I spent a lot of time misbehaving as a teenager. So today I’m celebrating some of the gifts my mama gave me. Thanks to my mum I spent my childhood listening to great singers and story tellers. My mum has a wonderful voice and she loved singing to me when I was small. When ‘Songs In The Key of Life’ came out we would sing along to Stevie Wonder together. Love you mumma, thanks for your sense of humour and your songs