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Losing my Mum to dementia at 85: the terribly sad yet sweet relief

The last time I saw her for real in 2018

The 2nd last time I saw her, it was her birthday July 4th, & I video called. She was in a Home in Wales, and I’m here in Australia, where I’ve lived for 35 years.

Mum was kinda asleep, though it was 11am, but muttering to herself. The staff held the phone, and tickled her chin to wake her, but no success.

I kept wishing her Happy Birthday, singing that damn song, but she only stirred and seemed to smile when I teased her for being so old now.

It was a sad experience.

Then 2 days later the Home Manager emailed to ask me to call her.

“I’m sorry to say this over the phone, but I think your Mum is coming to the end of her life- we’ve seen this before- she’s stopped eating and drinking, and won’t open her mouth.”

Oh Mum!

Our adult relationship hadn’t been easy– I was a rebellious teenager, then emigrated to Australia when I was 20, so rarely saw her over the years before Skype and mobile phones.

We were very different in personality, and in our ways of moving through the world… so much of how I am now is actually in opposition to how she was, or how I perceived her to be.

Being playful keeps you young, over 50 or over 80
2018: Grateful for my wise crone Mum #gratitude #wisdom #crone #wellbeing @boneAndsilver

But her politics were fabulous, raising me as a proud green Left feminist, and we loved reggae music, old movies, walks on the moors, and animals, especially cats. My younger brother and I each moved away from Mum though, (he to Norway), and had our children whom she rarely saw, and that was a constant source of sadness for her.

On July 7th my son hugged me hard, and we video called the Home. My cousin and her Mum (Mum’s younger sister) were there, holding the sacred space, waiting…

It was a shock to see her like that, struggling for breath, so old and clearly departing, and all I could do was sob.

But an hour later I composed myself; I called on my meditation habit, my compassion, my Buddhist Dharma practice, and I rang back. My friend H says I brought my ‘selfless presence’ to the fore, and she’s right, thank you.

I really said goodbye. I thanked Mum for all she’d done for me, for the great mothering she’d given, for all the confidence she’d gifted me with despite the lack of her own, and for helping me create such a wonderful life for myself and my son.

I spoke to her in French (she lived there for many years), scraping my best accent from the barrel of memory, and told her over and over to relax, to go to sleep, to let go, and be at peace.

It took another 2 days, but at 1am Saturday July 10th, my cousin called to say she’d passed. She’d been with her, playing reggae and Frank Sinatra as we’d requested, and her sister had just stepped out for a walk- it was 4pm in Wales, July 9th, and a lovely day.

Mum was diagnosed with Dementia in 2016, at 80 (her Mum was too, and lived to be 90 with it). We knew Mum was struggling for a few years before that, and official diagnosis was a relief. But the slow, clawing decline, as memories, speech, and cognition disappeared, was a terrible way to go.

1994- In a musical in France, aged 58.

When I last visited the UK in 2018, I determined to get Mum into a Home in Wales, where she was born, and which she remained fiercely proud of. I knew I was saying a big goodbye, as we sorted some of her papers and clothes, but I didn’t know COVID was going to stop me getting overseas again.

I guess I’ve been mourning her since then, hearing her speech become more of a word salad/gibberish, and hearing of her decline from the staff at the Home.

At the end of April this year, I went on a 9-day organised Yatra, or silent walk. We meditated several times a day, and bushwalked in silence too. We were invited to use a Mantra sometimes when we walked, saying one phrase over and over with intention, and I altered mine to suit Mum:

“May she be Safe, and Free.”

Over and over as we passed through previously-burnt bushland and open heath, along the Southern coastline of Eastern Australia:

“”May she be Safe, and Free.”

And now I very much have the feeling that she is at last.

I’m not going to pretend I believe she’s gone to Heaven, nor that I didn’t wish her to die.

Our relationship was complex, but I can proudly say we reached a kind, caring, and fun place together in the last few years. She was super intelligent and very witty when in a good mood; hugely sentimental and romantic; hopeless in the kitchen yet loved food; passionate about her politics and human/animal rights; adored celebrity gossip and chat shows; was haunted by childhood difficulties and anxieties; made poor choices in both love and real estate; was as loyal to her long-lived Pyrenean Sheep-dog Dylan as he was to her; and was a proud Head Librarian with her own collection of leather-bound first edition books on shelves all round her tiny garden flat.

Wellbeing over 50 often involves caring for elderly parents
Catching the bus to the Mall July 2017 (the hats were unplanned) #motheranddaughter #ageing #dementia #over50

I love you Mum. I’m so glad you’re free at last. I’ve cried and cried, but I’ve also danced, walked, prayed, written, meditated, and talked. I feel massive relief, and immense gratitude that you’ve passed. I’m being so well-supported by my beloved V, by my son, and my friends. The family overseas are doing the best they can from a distance, helping to sort out the cremation, and the Celebration of her life next month.

I am blessed.

Life is a blessing, to be sure, even in its terrible pain and distress.

But dying is also a blessing, whatever you believe happens next, and I wish for us all that we fear not the end, for it is always also a beginning.

In gratitude for being Judi’s daughter, G xO

32 Comments

  1. This is both heartbreaking and all-too-familiar.

    Nell’s mother – already suffering severe frontal lobe damage from a car accident in 1992 – was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last February. We had already moved her from a brownstone in Washington DC to a superb indepedent-living facility less than an hour from Boston. Luckily, we were able to clear out the latter apartment before the COVID shutdowns.

    She just turned 83 and is in obvious decline. It is really a matter of time – though how much sand is in the hourglass? Sadly, I never knew the vivacious and brilliant woman she was before the accident.

    Nell – an only child – had her own complex relationship with her mother. I think, really, we all do to some extent. With our own mothers, that is, not Nells’ mother specifically. ๐Ÿ™‚

    A great friend went through something similar with his own mother. He described her at the end as being a kind of empty shell with increasingly-rare glimmers of recognition.

    My mother did not suffer the same fate, but she was in hospice care for ovarian cancer for her final month or so. She went into a coma one weekend, and I was the only one who really understood – or could accept – what was coming. I brought my sister – severely developmentally disabled – and her own mother to see her. In essence, I was saying, “We love you. Let go. We’ve got this covered.”

    And then she was gone. Only 66 years old. Her own mother passed three years later, aged 92. Talk about fraught relationships. Oy.

    I agree: we need to recalibrate our attitudes toward death – the one true inevitability. Less fear, more celebrating what came before. It is lovely you were able to forge a type of peace with your mother at the end. Too many people do not, then suffer unnecessary regrets.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. -huge hugs- Reading the bit about you singing to your Mum in French made me choke up. I read to my Dad as he lay dying, Hungarian poetry that he loved. The nurses brought in a boombox and set it to the classical channel. I don’t know how much he heard, but I believe he felt it, and finally let go gently. Take care of yourself now. She would want that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thatโ€™s a good reminder: yes, am trying to be gentle with myself indeed ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿผ thank you.

      I appreciate hearing about what you did for your Dad too- itโ€™s the best we can offer isnโ€™t it? โค๏ธG

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes and yes. I kept thinking that maybe they’re like people in a coma, capable of hearing even if they can no longer react. I’m sure your Mum knew she was loved. That’s the best any of us can hope for. -hugs-

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Firstly, so very sorry for your loss. You write beautifully about your mum.

    Would you let us repost it on our site http://www.andinothernews.co.uk? All links & credits to you of course. We started our online mag in lockdown as a boredom relief and have carried on, we don’t earn from it so can only offer links and gratitude. Regardless if you say yes or not, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your really touching post. Lots of love xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading & commenting CeCe.

      Yes, please repost if it appeals to your readership- the more we can talk about death & dying the better I reckon. Gratitude is fine, and mutual ๐Ÿ˜Š. Thanks for being moved ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿผ

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a beautiful and emotional post G! I’m so sorry for the loss of your mother, but relieved she is no longer struggling in this world. It makes complete sense why you feel the relief. Sometimes writing things like this help us to feel a bit of peace as well, which I hope this did for you. Sending hugs from CT in the U.S.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Particularly meaningful for me to read this now, thank you. I am glad I sensed peace in your writing, and I hope I get there when the time comes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for commenting- I canโ€™t promise that peace will be the only or lasting state, but it IS good to feel the majority of it as such ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿผ
      My best wishes to you for your own journey, G ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿผ

      Liked by 1 person

  6. G, I am happy for both you and your Mum that she has passed, and also that you were able to craft a good relationship in her later years. Sending you all best wishes for continued peace and healing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Bon Voyage, Judi … may those on the other side hold you as dearly in their hearts as the ones left on this side. May you find what you need within all that love to follow your Path, wherever it leads next. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

  8. petespringerauthor says

    I went through this with my momโ€”the sweetest and best person I’ve ever known. Mom didn’t pass until she was 92, but the last seven years were so hard on both of us. She had lived a full life, and I had come to terms with her passing long before it happened. I felt sad when it finally happened, but the overriding feeling was one of reliefโ€”not for myself but her and the cruelness of dementia.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh I so feel your sadness & relief for your Mum- itโ€™s a terrible disease- I admit itโ€™s made me in favor of euthanasia, as thereโ€™s no way I want my son to suffer with me the way we all did with Mum. Iโ€™m sorry for your loss, & really appreciate your sharing comment, thank you, G ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿผ

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Six weeks since Mum died: letting go and setting free – and in other news

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