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.
My oldest childhood friend is about to turn 50 and realising I have elderly friends has made me think about what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. Middle age can be about making time for personal growth and wondering what sort of human you want to become in the second half of your life. Once my kids have moved out of home, I want to inspire people, live well and have fun, so when I grow up, hopefully I’ll still be young enough to:
Care about my fellow humans like Sam Newman
Be open-hearted like Prune Macsween
Dance like Peter Garrett
Have the compassion of Miranda (Not Really) Devine
Pop pills like Ben Cousins
Manage my hair like Donald Trump
Tolerate people like Peter Dutton
Possess the humility of Malcolm Turnbull
Be open-minded like Andrew Blot
Be submissive like Eddie Maguire
Be as sexy as Bronwyn Bishop
What’s on your life goals bucket list?
Adding water to plastic flowers in a vase
Putting the TV remote in your handbag
Storing cutlery under the pillow
Folding undies and carefully placing them in the fridge
Dementia is my mum’s gift to me. She can’t remember what my children are doing this week, but I’m hearing loads of stories of her long ago boyfriends before my dad.
Dementia is my mum in tears when she can’t remember how to listen to phone messages
Dementia is 4am phone calls when she can’t remember if it’s my sister’s birthday or her wedding anniversary today
Dementia is finding pleasure in patting a kitten for hours at a time
Dementia is not knowing about Facebook or Snapchat or being contactable 24/7
Dementia is driving to the favourite places of my mum’s childhood
Dementia is sitting quietly doing puzzles that aren’t challenging
Dementia is telling all the staff in her nursing home that she is Polish, when her grandmothers were Irish and Welsh and her parents were born in Australia
Dementia is keeping her here long enough to value and appreciate and say thank you and goodbye
We have been gay
Going our way
Life has been beautiful
We have been young
After you’ve gone
Life will go on
Like an old song we have sung
When I grow too old to dream
I’ll have you to remember
When I grow too old to dream
Your love will live in my heart
So kiss me my sweet
And so let us part
And when I grow too old to dream
That kiss will live in my heart
I am officially an old bag. Today I turn 50 and I’m trying hard not to whinge. For it is a privilege to be 50. My friends who died of breast cancer in their 40s would love to be where I am. And so would the kids who were robbed of their mothers.
The beautiful sick kids I’ve met at the hospitals I work in who left way too soon didn’t get to be adults at all. And the families and friends of my darlings Veljko, Mark and Anthony who died in their 20s would love to know them in their 50s. Those guys would have aged like fine wine if they’d had the chance.
I don’t feel that different, but I look in the mirror and I see age creeping up on me. I was born on a Monday, “Monday’s child is fair of face,” but my face looks like it needs more sleep. And my knees creak from all the stilt walking, gymnastics and dancing drunk in stupid high heels over the past 35 years. I can still have fun with my kids, my best friends, the families I meet through my work and I share great love with a beautiful heart. But there are things I’m worried that I haven’t done yet. Maybe I won’t get to live in New York or drive across Africa. Maybe I won’t be brave enough to sail across the world. Maybe crazy life goals are in the past. Maybe I won’t sing with Kermit or be the next teen superstar.
I share my birthday with fabulous people like Twiggy, Jeremy Irons, Frances Farmer, Mama Cass, Daniel Lanois, Nile Rodgers, Jimmy Fallon and Alison Sweeney from Days of Our Lives, darling. Today is also International Talk Like a Pirate day.
At 50 I’ve realised that the cocker spaniels I’ve had in my life may be the only dogs I own in this lifetime as I can’t afford to buy a house.
But 50 brings great rewards. I can sing, dance, laugh and love, I have fabulous kids, and I’ve given up people who drain me of precious energy. I have no time for those who don’t contribute to improving our world. So hit the high seas for some hijinks you swashbuckling scoundrels. I’ll be wearing my new earrings that cost a bucaneer. 50 is swell.
This year I’m starting to feel older. There are signs. Plastic surgeons are now following me on Instagram, looking for business. One day I went to work wearing no make up and three people asked me if I was unwell. My youngest child has also been helpful while looking at family photo albums.
“Look at that photo mummy, you have no crinkles.” Thanks for the reminder about my ageing face honey, I think you caused some of those crinkles.
One night a few months ago she was ill, and I held her over the bath to catch her vomit. When she stopped I swung around to wipe her feverish head and a strange woman stared at me from the mirror; a grumpy, frowning, middle-aged harridan holding a sickly-looking kid. Oh God, it was me. I’m sure I’m still 15 years old checking for pimples, how did the old bag take over my body? Do I exorcise her with Botox and skin peels? Some days I long to be young and dumb and pretty.
My lack of fashion sense doesn’t help. Mostly I am a slovenly mother, which is unfashionable in the current air brushed social media perfection climate. My winter look has been Patty and Selma flannelette pyjamas, stained t-shirts and no bra. I should make more effort with my appearance, my look is either dragged through a bush backwards hair or trying to put on as much make up as a drag queen. But I don’t want to be 49 years old and still dressing to impress a male, which is strange for a woman whose shelves are filled with feminist literature.
I do hope I’ll grow wisdom by the time I’m 50, because I am at an age where it is easy not to give a rats any more. My skin is dry and my arse is sliding down the back of my thighs. I wish I had the energy to care. I may be stating the obvious for those of you in your 50s and 60s but losing our youthful shimmer is challenging.
Some mornings my youngest stares at me then looks in the mirror.
“I want hair like mummy monster,” she says. I look at her, at my mangy head in the mirror, then at her again. Is she taking the piss? Having children is exhausting but my kids have also made me a better person. Youngest has improved my wardrobe. We went into a op shop last week and she said, “This is a nice cougar dress for you mummy.”
Plastic surgery? Yes please. I want to look like a Siamese cat in a wind tunnel and kid myself that I have the skin I had when I was nineteen. I don’t want anyone to see my forehead move, I want my teeth to glow in the dark and a double helping of trout pout please. Mr Surgeon I want the Nicole Kidman I haven’t had surgery look. I want rocks on my chest, I don’t want my boobs to move when I jog out of the water at the beach. When you have the mental age of a 15 year old it sucks to have the skin of a 40 something harried mumma. Years of smoking, sun damage, partying and parental sleep deprivation have not been kind to my face. I’ve had a fabulous full life but does every crevice on my forehead have to show that? Banking institutions aren’t that keen to give me a loan to fund my new cougar on heat face so I’ll have to start a crowdfunding, donate to me I’m a worthwhile charitable cause website to procure funds for my new face. Just need to think up a name for my new charity. How about Face it, I’m fabulous?