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.
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…”
Jenny McGregor makes me cry. She sings like an angel, has perfect skin and a gorgeous husband. Her children are so cute it is revolting. Jen’s beautiful smile could fool anyone into thinking that life has been easy for her. But when Jen’s adorable first-born son died suddenly at the age of 18 months she was broken. I still can’t believe that she could go through that kind of loss, and now she is so strong she can walk into children’s hospitals every week to cheer up sick and dying kids.
Jen and her husband have been through the kind of spiritual growth no one wants to experience in their lifetime. Music helped with Jenny’s healing, but she found that no one was writing songs that dealt with the death of a child in a profound way.
My beautiful colleague has been through every parent’s worst nightmare and now wants to help other grieving families. Jen is going to record an album of songs for bereaved parents but she needs money to employ professional musicians. Love and Let Go will be an album of great music with the proceeds going to the charity Red Nose, who provide free counselling for parents who have lost a child.
Jenny McGregor is very close to her fundraising target, but we need to help her get over the line. This woman is a shining star. Please donate if you can. Even $10 will help Jen realise her dream of supporting families who are suffering.
Today I’m celebrating four years of freedom.
Deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance - Oscar Wilde
I am blessed to have many beautiful friends in this life. Today two brave friends went through a terrible ordeal and will need to find the strength to overcome vast pain. I am thankful for my beautiful friends and all they have endured. I will be there when you need me
This time last year Ingrid Poulson and I were speaking on the same stage. I was asked to speak (about Clown Doctors and using humour to relieve stress) at ‘Radiance’ as part of the Woodford Folk Festival in December 2010-January 2011. She spoke after me and told her story. Part of me didn’t want to hear her as I still can’t get my head around what she has been through and survived. But as she spoke I realised she was an incredible woman and the lessons she learnt needed to be shared. Ingrid Poulson wants the parents of Australia to cherish their children. “Hold your babies tight. Love them just a little more. They deserve it,” she was quoted as saying after her children died.
Later I realised that her tent was next to mine in the camping area and I met her. I’d been having an argument with my teenager but my angry mood dissolved after about a minute in her presence. She is a radiant, amazing human being (she must have been just pregnant at the time). She now has a baby boy with her new husband. Ingrid Poulson is living proof that we can learn resilience and recover from even the most horrific life events. I find her strength inspiring.