adult helping senior in hospital

Sad, funny and beautifully moving: In the first part of a brand new series, Eevee’s Chris Tobin talks about his mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and explains why he’s chosen to share his family’s journey…

I truly wish in this diary serialisation of my mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s I could start at the very beginning, unfortunately, there is no beginning, no defining moment where I can put my finger on a pivotal action, where I looked at her & quite properly assumed she had lost her mind, when that look she always had in her eyes when we were children, disappeared and was replaced with staring into open space – when she was lost to us.
I always intended to write/publish some sort of diary/journal that would one day consume me – today that day has arrived. This week we have had medical confirmation that, indeed, my mother Bridget has Alzheimer’s – even though we have known and assumed for more than 3 years that this was the case.
Alzheimer’s is a cruel, horrible affliction. It takes away the spirit and emotions required for a person to exist, to properly function. I can only call it a disease because it spreads unabated and destructively dismantles all before it. However, Alzheimer’s can also bring along some comedy gold. As much as it has made me cry, it has also made me and my sisters laugh out loud as Bridget has entertained us with such an abandon of social skills, and we have begun to revel in some of the joy she has also shared with us through having Alzheimer’s. As much as I totally understand that some may find that crass and inappropriate, it is how we feel as a family at times, our feelings are just that; OURS.
My mother Bridget was born in Ireland – County Clare in 1930 and she will soon be 84 years young. She has 3 sons and 3 daughters. She lives in a warden aided old people’s complex on her own. I feel that gives you enough of a flavour, the rest you can manufacture with some poetic license.

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Our objective is to bring a weekly diary, a few hundred words to share ours and Bridget’s journey, both good and bad. Feel free to laugh, cry, applaud or just read and either keep your thoughts to yourself, or share them within a blog or on social media.
Over the years, my mother’s family has become somewhat fragmented (they could go for months with no contact)  but, like all good family/friends, they have the ability to pick up the baton from where it may have been ceremoniously dropped and run with it like nothing had ever been broken. It would mirror, slightly, my own relationship with her. As much as she has become distant through her illness in these last few years, I am closer to her than I can ever remember.
Today has perhaps been the most difficult since Bridget started on her Alzheimer’s journey and, as selfish as this may sound, my own toughest of days. Her sister, who herself had been ill, would pass away in her sleep in the early hours of this morning, leaving me with the unenviable task of telling Bridget – something that has to be planned with  accuracy and purpose so that she does not become further confused. One of the biggest things I have found with Alzheimer’s, is that sufferers (Bridget) do not handle even the slightest of routine change very well. A change of curtains, a new TV or bedding, clothing…the list goes on. My advice would be don’t bloody change anything.

'Alzheimer's disease', under 'Alzheimer's'

Where my mother has gone for months not mentioning her sister, we were, this week, conspired against by dark forces. She would, out of the blue, start mentioning her on what seemed like a daily/hourly basis.
I would have to choose the moment well, whilst giving us the opportunity to be with my mother after the news was broken – my father (they are separated) who we always take her to for her Sunday dinner would be at his most supportive (cantankerous). “She won’t have a clue anyway, but don’t ruin her dinner.” #Laugh or #Cry or #kill him? Two deaths in one day would perhaps be breaking the golden rule: “Don’t change a bloody thing”.
I would get my mother’s attention, somewhat like an attentive child at school in the process of being read a story, and utter those words, those words that kill another’s spirit. To tell her that Mary had passed away would make me more sad than my mother, never forgetful that she is trapped in this cocoon where memories seldom leave and where there is no room for new memories or even moments. Sadness, however, even with Alzheimer’s cannot be masked, the eyes have it.
Within 5 minutes she was smiling at the fresh cream tart my father had given her, whilst momentarily repeating “She had a bad back, but she’s gone now.” At the same time my own heart sank and a little piece of me died.

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For the past few days, whenever Bridget has had visitors and they have asked about her week, she has had this notion/memory that on Tuesday (every day is Tuesday) she went out shopping with my sister who took her around all the shops. “We went in every shop” and “knackered her out” (her words) and then they had coffee (she only drinks tea) and cake, how she enjoyed it so much and wants to go again, one of the best days of her life. As much as this would sound like the most idyllic of days, the truth is somewhat different.
On Wednesday 14th May 2014, on a visit to the memory clinic, my mother Bridget was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. My sister cried and cried and cried some more. The truth be known, I don’t know if she has actually STOPPED crying. Yes, we have known for 3 years but to have that word used – the finality of that diagnosis – that hurts. My mother, however, remembers it differently – God bless her.
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