Wednesday 16 January 2019

'You're finally free and unencumbered' - daughter's tender letter to mother who had dementia

The Sunday Independent today brings you more of the letters that you wish you had sent - but never did. Here is one tender letter addressed to a woman who had dementia.

Stock photo
Stock photo

Marie x

As I sat there in the chair, watching your frail body sleeping, my heart was filled with pain. My own beautiful mother — now totally dependent, our roles reversed. The full cycle of life unfolding.

There we were, the three of us. You, me and that uninvited guest. An imposter called dementia, seeking to invade and destroy. Its only mission: to steal you from me. A battle for your soul. But we were ready to fight, and day after day we lived through the many changes that confronted us. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad.

There was still time for laughter and chocolates! The pain could wait. At times that savage intruder was jealous and attacked. Stealing our peace, leaving in its place confusion and fear as you courageously battled for your sanity and your life. I was so proud of you. You opened your eyes to search the room for the tiniest fragment of familiarity that would link you to your true self. After all, you were still ‘you’. Your eyes met mine and you smiled. A heart-wrenching smile. The memory of it breaks my heart.

You’d say “hello” and thank me for coming. You’d say you hadn’t seen me for a while and that I “hadn’t changed!” I’d smile back as I had done the day before and the day before. Weary of explanation I would smile sadly to myself, enter your world and play the game.

We would open the box of chocolates. Your eyes lit up, for this moment was ours. The two of us. You’d say: “I haven’t had chocolate in years!” As you studied the layers, your eyes sparkled like a child looking in a shop window at Christmas. You carefully chose ‘the one’ — the same one you picked every day. Mischievously you never took your eyes from the box. You would reach in, choose another and another before announcing that you’re “not supposed to have chocolate” — as you reached over with all your strength for the whirl. Your favourite. The joy. The comfort. I was happy and you were happy. These were the good days.

Now that it’s all over, I think about that long journey that brought you to that place. Were you sometimes lonely and afraid there? Beyond that invisible barrier that stood between us. As much as I tried, I could not reach you there. This was your place. And it was sacred and private. The Valley of the Living Dead.

Even so, you were still there with me at home — and I thank God for those moments, those times when we would meet the obstacles each day, spending however long it took. At no point could I bring my heart to say “God, be set free.” How utterly selfish of me. Please forgive me.

The harsh winter winds are howling outside your bedroom window today. I remember you told me how you got soaked when you went for your walk. Bedridden for so long as you were, at times such as these I found this intruder a blessing in disguise.

“And did you enjoy your walk,” I’d ask?

“I did. I’ll go again tomorrow. It was lovely.”

Are you walking now? Or dancing through the soft young spring grass under your feet. The flowers you always loved gently blowing in the breeze. Finally free and unencumbered. My own dear mother. My only true friend. My very own Lily of the Valley. My heart yearns for you.

Your daughter,

Marie x

Douglas Street, Cork

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