My Mother developed Alzheimer's Disease in her late sixties and slowly descended through times of confusion and fear, loss of memory and who her family were, to a place where she lay alone in a hospital bed, her body an empty shell where Mum used to live.
She was a Great Lady, dignified, kind and utterly selfless in her service to those she loved. She died at the age of 74, but was lost to us long before. She did not deserve to go like that; and as a Christian I am not ashamed to tell you that I have more than once looked angrily at the Heavens and wondered why she did. And I remember how my Father, my Sister and I, and all the family were at times simply bewildered. We just didn't know what to do. Initially we would try to reason with her, but as I describe in the video clip above, I learned that it was easier to simply 'play along' with the fantasy which Mum's condition had created. It also served to reassure a frightened woman that everything would ultimately be OK.
I will be sixty next year, and perhaps inevitably, every damned time I lose the car keys I wonder if some genetic link will condemn me to the same tragic end. I have resolved, and told my family, that should I be diagnosed with the same condition, I would prefer to make my own arrangements to cross the Jordan, rather than have my loved ones put through the same thing. However, on a slightly more cheerful note, there are a group of incredibly talented people making this film about dementia and striving to raise support for research. People of Science are working to find solutions every day so that dementia might become better understood, and hopefully controlled or eliminated as people approach the end of their lives in this ageing population.
And I hope that the world of dramatic art will recognize the importance of the storytellers in increasing public awareness and understanding.
Perhaps one of the strangest memories of all that I have about my Mum's illness was how, at the very end, she would very occasionally say something which she used to say to us decades earlier. "I'll be down in a moment" is one that always sticks in my mind. It was as if some tiny spark of Mum was still there, just holding on before her final goodbye.
The Saturday when my Sister phoned to say: "I'm afraid we lost Mum this morning", was strangely surreal. Our Mum had died, but the spirit we loved had already gone.
And I felt a strange peace in knowing that Mum had finally got home...