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.
Earlier this year I went to the Middle East to stilt walk at a fair in front of the Bahraini royal family. As one does in one’s day job. So I had to work while I was there but for me it was a single mother escape with endless joy from the minute I sat down on the plane. I love planes. Someone gives you food regularly, you watch endless TV and films, read pointless magazine articles, someone refills your drink and cleans up your spills and you don’t have to make anyone dinner. What is not to love? When we arrived in Bahrain we had drivers to help with our bags and take us to and from the hotel. I can handle hotels, I really can. Having a slave clean the bathroom and make your bed every day was divine. This single mother was loving it. One day after work I had a massage, then sat in the jacuzzi for two hours. Because I could. Someone else was washing my sheets. Free from housework and childcare, I could shop, eat too much food, look at tourist sites and sleep in. When I returned to my darling friends who had looked after my children while I was away, I realised that even though I loved my Middle East adventure, from the camels to the swarthy men, it didn’t really matter where I went, because every slave mother needs to misbehave at least once a year.
My Dad used to take his teeth out and scare my sister and I by singing this song in the dark when we were growing up. I loved it and my sister hated it. Today would have been my Dad’s 86th birthday. Love you Dad.
EDVARD MUNCH and FRANK SINATRA
Famous Marriages in History – On the 12th of December 1957 Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13-year-old second cousin Myra Gale Brown.