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.
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
My 90 year old mother has dementia. The word dementia comes from the Latin dementiae. In the dictionary, it is defined as, madness, distraction or folly. The mum I knew is slipping away and all I can do is massage her dry skin with rose scented cream, hold her hand and try to bring her some joy.
Some weeks the phone calls from my mother are so numerous, angry, repetitive and bat shit crazy, that I find myself glancing at shite online trying to distract myself while I listen to her tell me stories that I’ve heard 100 times. These conversations become so bad, that reading updates on LinkedIn seems like a good idea.
But this week I found the upside to my mother’s dementia.We had a cup of tea and then she handed me her mail.
“Do you know what to do about this?” she said. I looked at the envelopes and realised that amongst the bills and a letter from Centrelink, was the ABS voting form for the Same Sex Marriage survey. I grinned.
“Yes mum, yes I do. If any of your friends here in the nursing home need help with this, I can help them too.” Helping people, that is what Christians who want to heal the world can do.