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.
In 2017 I was lucky enough to visit Italy and I went on a tour of the Vatican. The impenetrable wall around Vatican City and numerous security cameras screamed inclusiveness to me. In the Vaticano museum, there are priceless works from an immense collection built up by Popes throughout the centuries, including some of the most renowned classical sculptures and important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world. They own paintings by Leonardo, Van Gogh, Raphael, Picasso, Chagall and Dali for God’s sake. Why won’t the Catholic Church sell some of these artworks and antiquities to help the victims of child abuse by their priests? Or perhaps the world’s starving and homeless? When the gap between rich and poor has never been greater, why are ‘good Catholics’ paying for statues to be made and shipped from all over the world to an already over-stuffed museum? They could wipe out a generation’s problems with a few garage and property sales around the world. So why don’t they?
My visit was a few days before Pell was charged. After his arrest, in St Peter’s Square there were polizei, army and carabinieri on every corner and tourist monument. Pell was hidden away. Who could blame the poor victims who for years were ignored, if they decided to revolt against these monsters in power?
20% of Christian brothers are guilty of perpetrating or covering up child abuse. The Catholic Church pays to protect paedophile priests but argues over paying compensation to their victims when money for shelter and counselling could alleviate the suffering of those whose childhoods were robbed by sick perverts.
The Australia-wide Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse delivered its final recommendations in December 2017. More than 60,000 abuse survivors came forward. The suicide rate amongst males in Ballarat (Pell’s home city) is twice that of Melbourne. But still, some in the Catholic Church believe that their religion is being unfairly targeted. This is the organisation where all serving archbishops told the royal commission they would not report to police a colleague who admitted in the confessional to child rape.
And scumbag journalists with zero credibility defend them.
Members of the media who defend child rapists must be sacked. And a truly visionary pope who wanted to help victims would be a great start.
The church asked Catholics to pay for Pell’s defence team, they helped Pell raise money but try to avoid payment to victims. They initially refused to put in an interim care scheme and a lot of the Catholic diocese’ say they ‘intend’ to sign up for the redress scheme, despite lobbying government to cut it down. Something is seriously wrong with this supposedly moral institution. It’s almost as if paedophiles (and alleged paedophiles) are taken care of but not the victims. Jesus would kick these greedy money lenders out of the temple.
“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”
Today I want my loud, laughing dad back from “death’s dateless night,” so we can guffaw, have a whiskey, eat too much food, carry on and argue. We’d have the cricket on and talk about the current parliamentary debacle, the Wallabies, travelling in Europe and the heartbreaking turmoil of the people trapped on Manus and Nauru. My dad would be wearing his heart on his sleeve, we would fight about something important, cry, forget about it an hour later and have another wee dram. I want to talk to my dad about his painful childhood, about growing up without a father, about how lonely he was and give him a huge hug because he survived and created a life for us that he could only dream of as a child growing up hungry.
I inherited your devotion to books, your sense of humour and your belief in the beauty of our fellow humans. It’s been 16 years and I miss you today and every day Jack Ernest. Wish you were here…
“Your love will live in my heart…”
Today I’m thankful that I still have a mother, but if we’re going to have a day to celebrate mothers, please don’t ask me to:
Bake a cake for a fundraiser
Select a nanna scarf for me before I’m a grandmother
Volunteer for any initiative to improve the lives of already well-off people
Mend garments or
Clean up after babies
Also please don’t:
Buy me ugly socks
Make me a ceramic thingy that I’ll smash
Give me any more craft
Advise me to take vitamins, colonics, miracle cures or go for a run
Rescue another animal for me
Suggest helpful ways to brighten my floors
Today I don’t want to grow, inspire, achieve, strive or nurture, I’m cranky and I’m having a day off. Please quickly bring me a bottle of gin, tonic, lemons and an obedient bar man, then close the door on your way out. Your best present for Mumma is obedience and a big dose of shush.
Here’s to the magnificent 78’ers, those brave souls who stood up for their rights and tonight celebrate 40 years of Sydney Mardi Gras. These civil rights champions were brutally bashed, arrested, taunted and harassed and still they marched for their friends, for the freedom to be their magnificent selves, for equality, for ‘the love that dare not speak its name.’ Thank you to the warriors who fought for the freedom to love freely and to be equal citizens. Rainbow beauties I salute your courage. Your selfless actions made Sydney a more fun, more colourful and more inclusive place. I can’t imagine dancing on Oxford Street in 1983 without you.
As I hope for glitter not blood on the streets tonight, I’m shedding a few tears for the beautiful loved ones we lost when AIDS ripped through our lives in the 80s and 90s. I know tonight they will be there in spirit. I’m also thinking of the people who work so hard for Bobby Goldsmith and ACON and my friends decorating floats. Party on beauties. I feel nothing but love and pride when I see you shining.