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 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
Pollarding is a method of pruning that keeps trees and shrubs smaller than they would naturally grow. It is normally started once a tree or shrub reaches a certain height, and annual pollarding will restrict the plant to that height.
In the interests of fine single mothering, I’ve decided to Pollard my children. Minimal feeding means that my kids won’t grow too tall, thus saving on expensive sports shoes and fancy undies, and keeping school uniform costs to a minimum. My food bill will be reduced, thus Pollard will be kept in the fine style I would like to be accustomed to.
Maintaining a Pollard
The Pollard method is useful to maintain the size of a teen who is in danger of growing too big for a small, single mother budget sized apartment.
Rejuvenating a Pollard
Summer can be a suitable time to Pollard. This method requires the removal of parasites or weakly-attached branches of the family tree. So out with the toxic monster in law and deadbeat dad and in with promoting attachment to healthy adult role models. According to Dr Google, “It may be possible to remove the branches that have grown from the stumps of old Pollards.” Yes! I am well rid of my STDs, the sexually transmitted debts that kept me weighed down for too long. Bring on summer.
If you’re happy and you know it, learn to Pollard
Look how little and cute my youngest favourite child turned out.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanished sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.
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.