health

"My dad faded away long ago. If he were dead, it would be easier."

“I live in fear of this awful disease.”

By CAROLINE MCMAHON

Even though I am middle aged, it is only recently that I have begun to write.  I would like to say that this recent desire to write is due to an inner yearning.

But truthfully: I write out of fear.

My father, now in his mid 70s, has Alzheimer’s disease.  He has been affected for many years.  Living in 2013, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. Although many wonderful scientists are working very hard to find one, or at least a delayed onset or reduced effects.   I live in fear that over the next ten years, I too will start to show symptoms of this awful disease.

My father did not always have his current blank stare and a disinterest in the people he loved.

Quite the opposite.

I look back at my childhood growing up in suburban Perth. My English father was sent out from London to Port Hedland, WA to dredge the harbour. He had previously been deployed to Antarctica for six months, so he was used to being away from home and in extreme weather conditions.

However the overbearing Gasgoyne region heat overcame him and he was admitted to the district hospital. It was there that he fell in love with his nurse, a down to earth country girl, who was to become my mother.

They married in Perth and after taking my mum back to meet his family and tour the UK, they settled back in Perth. It was there that my younger brother and I grew up in a mix of two cultures. Dad, having grown up in the East end of London from a big family and little money.

He tried desperately to explain to my mum that he could afford shoes for his children. So I have vivid memories or my mother calling us in around 5 pm each afternoon to put on our plimsoles. Even if we were running around in our bathers through the sprinklers, our shoes were on so that as dad pulled into the driveway, he would find us playing in our shoes, much to the amusement of the neighbourhood kids.

“My father did not always have a blank stare and a disinterest in the people he loved.”

My father had convictions and things were important to him. He cared and things mattered.

Our home was filled with people most Saturday afternoons, drinks that turned into BBQ s and my dad the life of the party.

Many nights I drifted off to sleep listening to his voice lubricated with beer, singing or telling a joke to our guests.  My parents were very social and enjoyed the time they spent with the friends and family.

Although this shrunken figure before me still has the features of my dad, there is nothing of the fun loving and vivacious man I used to know.

My dad faded away long ago, if he were dead it would be easier. He no longer knows his friends, he can’t maintain his relationship with his grandsons. He still knows who I am but talks in riddles in his attempt to communicate with me. It just ends up frustrating me.

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The biggest blow of all is to my mum.

She worked hard all her adult life so she could enjoy her retirement. Retired now, she stays close to home caring for my difficult dad. My mum is still technically married, but this is not her husband. My mum remains social but has had to learn how to be social on a solo level.

My Mum and I are very close, but we don’t travel together as one of us need to be home to keep an eye on dad. It is like looking after a child, keeping him safe, checking that he hasn’t left things turned on that could harm himself or one of us. The difference between caring for a child and my dad is that a child will smile, perhaps throw their arms around and tell you how much they love you. As you look into their eyes they will sparkle and be full of life, hope and optimism for the future. All we get from dad is perhaps a cutting remark or he just walks away as if he doesn’t know me, perhaps he doesn’t.

“My mum is still technically married, but this is not her husband.”

My sons know how very loved and cherished they are.  While they are still teenagers now, they have had a lovely childhood.

I worry that I will not be able to recall to them the funny things that they did, or how I saw their growing years through my eyes.  I want them to know how much thought I put into my parenting of them.

While making mistakes and not always getting things right, it was always done with love and their best interests at heart.

I leave my thoughts in the forms of blogs, so that there is something for them to come back to, should they want or need to.  That they might still have the physical me around, but the deadness in my eyes, and searching for words may not be able to answer the questions they seek.

I am sure that my children and friends think that I am a little crazy, perhaps even self indulgent to start to write blogs of things that are currently part of my day to day life.  They are of nothing significant or special, other than a mother’s love for her children and husband, friends and family.

I sleep a little better at night not having to worry quite as much about me having Alzheimer’s, that my written words will live on into the future, far longer than me.

Even if I am spared from the Alzheimer’s curse, I am hoping that my blogs will be a lovely reminder for what may well be just normal memory fading in old age. That like photo albums of the past, it is reminder to myself of my feelings right now, and how I muddled my way through my children’s teenage years, and my own middle life.

Do you know anyone who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease?

Caroline is a Registered Nurse and Midwife from Perth, and also co-director of Carolines Angels, a specialist baby sleep agency. In her spare time, Caroline enjoys writing about her family and friends on her blog, Mumorable Moments.

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