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.
How do we live in a world without Prince, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Victoria Wood and Merle Haggard? Age shall not weary them, but 2016 has been a cruel year, robbing the world of my favourite artists.
The genius artist known as Prince brought my teen years alive with his sexy funk groove.
“All good things that say, never last. And love, it isn’t love until it’s passed.”
Please Stevie Wonder, stay healthy and strong.
Thank you Prince Rogers Nelson, your music, generosity of spirit and philanthropy will live forever
Today the Australian Clown Doctor community say farewell to our beloved leader, ever-smiling, humble, generous, warm hearted Peter Spitzer, the son of Czech Holocaust survivors who became a doctor then started The Humour Foundation charity in Australia. In 1996 I remember sitting in the gym of a sweaty police boys club in Erskineville with a handful of other fools while Peter explained what a Clown Doctor program could look like. Peter’s vision made our work a reality. Over the years I had the privilege of working with Peter at Sydney Children’s Hospital, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and Royal North Shore Hospital, as well as sharing meals at our conferences and hours doing workshops and training where he taught us more ways to help those suffering. We were always inspired by his love for all the fabulous families we are lucky enough to meet in our hospital Clown rounds. Peter Spitzer approached all human life forms with an open heart, eager to learn their stories, connecting with everyone, young and old, whether the head of the hospital or a small kid in need of some distraction. He had the sharp mind of an eager scientist, always enthusiastically sharing his findings with us, always looking for ways to better our work.
My years as a Clown Doctor were punctuated by visits to Peter’s house after the Bowral Ball, where he worked his magic and made people laugh, while the lovely locals raised money to continue our programs. I treasure the memories of staying over at Peter’s house afterwards, and grand breakfasts with Peter and his darling wife Judy as we discussed our work and new ways to fundraise with his beautiful band of supporters. Later I was lucky enough to work with Peter on the pilot Elder Clown program, where Peter shared his passion for making life better for adults living with dementia.
Dear Doctor Fruit-Loop (see I didn’t forget the hyphen) you gave us a purpose for our work. You never grew tired of seeing the joy on a sick child’s face. You gave our performing lives so much meaning, we weren’t there to show off, we were there to empower sick children and frail elderly people. It is always about them, not us. Clown Doctoring is not a job, it is a calling, and you showed us the way. We are so sad you have left us but we vow to continue your work, we want you to be proud of us. Adios Doctor Fruit-Loop, I will think of you and the twinkle in your eyes when I carry far too many props in my coat, whenever I see a rubber chicken, or see a child’s face change from fear to laughter. I’m so glad I told you how much we all loved you the last time i saw you. I have a job and a life of meaning thanks to you. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us, you have left a magnificent legacy.
When my colleagues and I tell people we are Clown Doctors people usually say, “Oh like Robin Williams in that movie? What was the name of that film?” Patch Adams, and he’s a real doctor and a funny person. Thank you Robin Williams for bringing the idea of taking humour therapy into hospitals into the mainstream.
I first fell in love with Robin Williams when he starred in Mork and Mindy. Then I saw him live at the State Theatre in Sydney in the late 80s and I couldn’t believe his talent. To be in the room with this rapid fire stand up comedy genius was incredible. Then he starred in movies.
They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.
We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?
Robin Williams as John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society.
Thank you Robin Williams for sharing your gift with us, for your wonderful films and all the laughter and tears you gave us. I hope you realised how much you were loved. I’m sad that your demons became too much for you to bear. In these dark days, the world needs laughter more than ever. Nanu Nanu
I had so many questions to ask you. When you think you’ve got all the time in the world with someone you probably don’t.
Goodbye our sunny, lovely friend. Some people are sent into our lives to remind us to smile, give our love freely and take pleasure in the simple things. Thank you for the joy and the sunshine you brought us, we will miss your beautiful face
One month from today on Sunday August 10 I will be walking 14 kilometres from the city of Sydney to Bondi beach in my best Calvin Clown tracksuit to raise money for Clown Doctors Australia. The Clown Doctors treat sick children in hospital with smiles, fun and laughter when they need it most. We touch the lives of over 155,000 people a year, and ‘operate’ in partnership with 21 hospitals around Australia. The entire hospital community benefits – patients, family and staff. The Humour Foundation provides this service free of charge to hospitals. The work of the Clown Doctors is extremely important and the healing power of humour has been recognised in many studies. Everyone knows that “Laughter is the best medicine,” and research has found physiological and psychological benefits to patients. The outcome of making a child smile at a very difficult time is instant, but one that can have a long lasting effect for both the child and their family. Having an intervention which is able to provide humour and improve health can often be a strong coping technique for a sick kid. I love my job and I love talking and walking so I’d better start bulking up on my carbs (do donuts count?), I need to be ‘match fit’ in one month.
You can donate here: https://city2surf2014.everydayhero.com/au/drquack
When I was 21 years old my darling big brother was shot at point blank range in the head and lived to tell more tall tales. A pair of beautiful strangers helped him survive the attack and paid for his medicine and his travel. Not long after that my mother’s car was stolen after I’d borrowed it. The police found it later that night and when I went to the police station to collect it the young female cop said to me, “You don’t seem that stressed that the car is damaged.” I said to her, “It’s just a car, it can be fixed, my family and I don’t worry about inanimate objects any more.” I’m really lucky that I received a life lesson when I was young about what is important. A car is replaceable, people aren’t. Too often we worry about our stuff or how much we should spend to insure that stuff and it ain’t worth replacing. When I talk to the parents of kids who have survived terrible accidents or multiple operations or horrible illnesses they all tell me that they tend not to worry about the trivial stuff like the latest electricity bill any more. No one is going to read a list of the emails you replied to quickly at your funeral. If your child can’t go to preschool take the day off work, your report can wait. You may never have a day with just you and your four year old again, enjoy the precious moments reading a book in bed or doing a finger painting or talking about snot. Kiss people, hug them, tell them you love them, visit them with a bunch of motley flowers from your garden, don’t wait, just go, even if you can’t afford a present or don’t think you have time.
“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough” – Meister Eckhart
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
If your kids are healthy, hug them and hold them tight. You have won the lottery as a parent.