This is my beautiful Mum Mum. My grandmother and my friend.
She was always a well-dressed woman who cared about her appearance and loved a bit of cheeky fun.
She was a significant adult in my life. I spent quite a bit of time with her, before and after school and when my parents worked. We developed a special bond. She would knit and crochet me things and cook delicious treats. She did this for all of her grandchildren.
My most favourite memories are those where she would brew a pot of tea and she, mum and I would sit around the table talking tales of times gone by and finding ourselves in fits of laughter that would just snow ball into more laughter. I think this is why I love laughing so much.
She was widowed when I was around 6 or 7, living in the country she adored her cats, tendered to her garden, collected eggs from the chooks and chatted to neighbours, many whom she grew up with. She would always come along to school and dance performances. She lived right next door. She was always there for us.
She had seen a lot in her lifetime, she had lived through wartime, concerned while her husband and brother were at war. She was part of the community and knitted socks and vests for the soldiers and then witnessed the after effects of war when our diggers returned. She had lived through the depression living off ration tickets to get essentials. A few months old, her daughter (my mum), developed an illness they thought was leukemia and after 12months of hospitalisation she brought her home from hospital, to have her for the last days. She was resilient and always looked for the silver lining.
In hindsight I can see when the disease was coming on, the subtle clues were building. Living next door it was normal to have an evening cup of tea together and talk about the day. One evening, she had served up cat food in a bowl. One time she called to say that the kettle wouldn’t heat the water and when we investigated we found the electric kettle with the stove top coil melted into the bottom of it. And sometimes at night, she would knock on the door because she couldn’t turn the light off - she had been trying to turn it off by hitting it with a broom.
This strong, caring, fun loving and resilient woman who had taught me so much was changing.
All of these symptoms were subtle and over a few years, and it was hard to see this change in her. I remember one day, not sure how to tell her that her hygiene needed tending to. She turned mean and I had never seen her like this, she asked who I thought she was, and I reminded her she was my grandmother and I loved her very much. “You are not” she growled and said some really horrible things that had never before come from this loving and caring woman. This was one of the first hurts and in time there would be more and I would learn that this was not her, it was the disease.
It was never an option to place her in care, she had cared for her own parents and granny and done so much for us and others. We wanted her to be surrounded by love and family.
I’m not going to sugar coat it. It got pretty hard at times and there were times when we did talk about care options but while we could love and care for her, we did. Little did we know how much we would learn about ourselves and others throughout this time. And that we would care for her to the day she died.
More than 425,000 people have dementia across Australia. This number is projected to reach more than 1.1 million by 2056.
September is Dementia Awareness Month, I am sharing my experience with excerpts of my journal that I kept and that was an important tool for me throughout this time.
It is my heart felt hope that my small action of sharing will make a big difference and contribute towards building an understanding of some of the challenges families face as this disease brings about change in a person you love.
You can become a Dementia Friend at dementia.org.au
Wishing you wellbeing.