Thursday 22 March 2018

Dr Ciara Kelly on her mum's battle with dementia: 'I've already lost one parent and soon I know I will have to say goodbye to another'

Dr Ciara Kelly
Dr Ciara Kelly
A birthday can be a time for a family gathering and celebrations

Ciara Kelly

Today's my mum's birthday. She doesn't know it of course. And she would hate for me to tell you how old she is - even though she doesn't know what age she is herself.

She is, despite being 91 and fiercely proud, in advanced dementia now.

She struggles to find simple words in conversation, often substituting random or sort of 'linked' words when she talks, which means only those of us who are close to her really know what she's talking about.

But we gathered as a family in her nursing home to mark the occasion and celebrate a life well lived.

She loves music still, so we had a little sing-song and played some of her favourite tunes in the background. Funnily enough, she knows all the lyrics to everything still - that hasn't slipped away with so much else.

So she still gave Annie Get Your Gun a whirl, though her voice is very frail now and she can no longer wave a sweeping brush in the chorus like she once did.

She rarely knows who I am. Although she knows the name.

Ciara means something to her. And sometimes she even knows she has a daughter Ciara.

She just doesn't know it's me. But she likes to see me and tells me I have a kind face and wonders if I'm a friend of hers.

She definitely treats me differently to some of the residents she has taken against and sends packing if they enter her room unannounced.

But I got a slight fright when I saw her today. Usually I see her in the daytime around lunch or maybe in the afternoon, and she is often quite engaged and engaging.

Today we saw her in the early evening. It was only six o'clock but she looked exhausted. Sitting half slumped to one side in her chair and appearing for the first time to my eyes as really properly old.

Oh, I know that probably sounds stupid. My mum is very elderly. She is clearly old. But that is not how you see your own mum. That's how you see other old ladies.

It doesn't matter that she is 91 and I am 45. She is still my mum. She is still the person who put on your shoes and socks when your little fingers couldn't manage it as your feet dangled from a chair.

She is still the person who brought you the basin and an old towel with a beaker of flat 7up in the middle of the night when you had a sick tummy. She is still the person who tucked you in and told you she loved "every hair on your head" and was your whole world - when you were small and couldn't imagine a life without her in it.

That is the person you are losing to dementia. And that is the person you will lose finally when dementia gives her up and she slips away altogether.

You aren't losing the mam you have at 45 who is 91. You are losing the mam you had at four and 11 and 16 and 26. The one who made you wear an awful beret you were mortified about at your confirmation. The one who sent food parcels to you in college so you'd "eat right". The one who practically moved in after the birth of your first child because you were so afraid of being alone with him because you didn't know what you were doing. The one who was funny and feisty and fierce and strong. That is who is leaving.

And the rational part of your head knows it's nearly time.

It knows this can only end one way and thinks occasionally about arrangements - what mum might like for her funeral; what we might do for her as a family.

But the rational part of your brain is only a small bit of you. The other bit is the bit that still misses the mum who wiped your forehead with a damp facecloth when you had a temperature and she was the only person who could make you feel better.

The bit that still can't really imagine a life without her in it.

I've already lost one parent, and soon I know I will have to say goodbye to another one. And so many of my peers I know are doing that too.

But it's not easy and it's only very slightly better for us all being older.

Hold them close while you can.

Happy birthday Julie Curran. Night, night. I love you.


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