I wish I could..

I have to apologise for missing Sunday’s blog. I was working from Germany as my little granddaughter battled a horrible bacteria and spent 10 days in hospital. Straight off the plane, I was taken to the hospital to see her and there she was, connected to pipes and a drain..this little body in this bed looking so weak but still managing a smile for her nanna.

I wished I could have helped you my little one…but you fought it physically and emotionally and thankfully, you are back to bouncing up and down, although still recovering.

You were so so brave my little one.

I thought of you so much mum. It was the same feeling of helplessness when you became ill ..I wish I could have helped you too back then..and I wish you were here to tell me all is okay now.

All of us who watch a loved one who is fighting illness feels like this. You pray and hope the doctors can ‘make them better’ and ‘work their magic’. Most of the time they can, of course, and that is the wonder of medicine..especially today.

However, with dementia, it is not so easy. On a postiive note, some of the strains of dementia are not so bad but what mum had was, unfortunately, one of the worse types.

Still, we kept up our conversations for as long as possible and mum you were and mum you will always be. You struggled through the first phase, which lasted at least a year, and we all adjusted to the new you in that time. We knew little about dementia but the psychiatrist helped us along. Sitting in the waiting room for your regular appointments, we met other patients, from all walks of life. There was one man in particular whom I knew. I was amazed to see him there and discovered he was fighting depression. It is funny how you picture people to be one way and then realise they too have problems. We all have secrets to hide, even those with high flying careers, as this person had. I always tell those who call, to push aside any shame or embarrasment they may feel. We all carry our burdens and we all have our demons to face.

There are those who admit them and talk about them…I am one of those people..and then there are those who do their best to hide them. Sometimes, successfully, but other times with total failure. The latter are the worst because people are not blind and they realise when things go wrong, especially those close to them, or even their neighbours. A problem shared is a problem halved. Finding a friend or relative or even a stranger to lean on is wise. A person who has the time to listen to you, who will empathise with you..cry with you. Never be afraid to share.

In fact, this is what we do in our ‘Reaching Hands’ support group – this is where relatives get together online and talk about their stories, situations, problems, fears and shed a tear or two, sometimes cry buckets…there is no shame in that..of course not! Sometimes I find myself crying with the relatives too…I guess some hurts never heal..but I find that sharing my story too helps others not feel so alone in all their burdens.

Recently, someone called me about her relative. I knew about the situation and waited a long time for this call …I am so happy she plucked up courage..

I say to all those out there who are facing this ‘huge load’…reach out to us..we are here to help.

I wish I could have helped you mum…but I know I can help others..and that is all down to you!

Wasted plans

After almost a lifetime of working, most of us look forward to a peaceful retirement, with relaxation being part of the equation.

These were certainly your plans Mum, and those of Dad too. They worked for a few years, with a few medical hitches here and there due to ageing, but you were quite pleased with the way things were working out. Many of those who knew you, remember you walking together along the Sliema seafront, holding hands, and perhaps, leaning on one another too, when a knee or foot wasn’t very cooperative. Summer meant swimming on a daily basis, to which I joined in too, and enjoyment of the grandchildren to the full. Winter meant more strolls and venturing out to the shops without the sun burning down on you.

Travel was definitely part of your plans, and you even made it to New Zealand to see Martin.

That was great! Plans are wonderful, something I love to do myself. Of course, travel plans had to be at the top of the list! Both yours and mine!

Until the world came crashing down, splintering every single plan to miniscule pieces. What a crash too! One that you never recovered from.

When dementia set in, things…life…changed dramatically.

It creeps up on you in a slow manner. A slight change here and there. A little bit of memory loss, a little mishap, a little side track.

You close an eye, you push it away, you close the cupboard door on it.

All,until everything falls out once again and then it is…’slap’…in your face!

No more turning away, no more brushing it aside..it is there..a stark reality…and one that you just cannot ignore.

What happened to our plans? They just fell apart.

Sweltering heat

40 degrees and climbing. The beads of sweat pour down my forehead and the sun is only just rising. Our summers are always hot but it’s been a while since we experienced these temperatures. Last summer, August to be exact, Francis, my husband, and I, were strugglying up the last part of the hill to our daughter’s house in Germany, in 35 degrees, and I remember saying to myself that Malta was cooler at that time. Not today! It’s 22 degrees in her little town, with some rain here and there. I would not mind trudging up her hill at this very moment.

When I was a child, summer always meant swimming. Even today. I love the sea and feel my stress and troubles all wash away as my body enters the water and that beautiful rush of cold touches my skin. As I push myself under, that feeling of weightlessness is so calming, so relaxing.

My love of the sea is thanks to you, Mum. You took us to the swimming club every day without fail. I was a member for 45 years before I closed that chapter, and which I will eventually write about.

When dementia raised its head, it was our turn to take you swimming. Dad and I kept up our daily routine of turning up at the club gates just as they were opening. We were always first in and first into the large seawater pool or the sea. What a sensation! The whole pool to ourselves…what else can one ask for?! You loved the sea and, as the years wore on, as your smile faded away, the sea was the only place in the world where it would appear. The moment you touched the water, we would see that expression of delight!

We never allowed your dementia to take away this pleasure and no hurdle could stand in our way. This was always our priority..our prerogative.

There is one scene which I will never forget. Your dementia was worsening and you were losing the ability to swim alone. One quick decision and we moved to the children’s pool to ensure your safety. As your feet touched the bottom of the pool, your body automatically moved upwards into a little jump and you chuckled. We all laughed together and this became our game.

Not a child’s game though! You were not a child and no person living with dementia should be referred to as one. You were an adult, in your 70s too, and had just found something that made you laugh and that, in turn, made us laugh with you.

During one of these episodes, a young woman came to watch our little game. I remember her being tall, and in her early thirties perhaps? She was watching my mother with intense concentration, but, as I looked up at her, I saw this deep sadness in her eyes, tears trying to break through and run down her cheeks.

She turned to me and said how lucky I was to have my mum. At that moment, I felt mixed emotions. Lucky was not the word, not for me and not for mum. However, the young woman managed a few more words and told me that at least my mum was near me and I could touch her, I could feel her. She then walked away, leaving behind silence and sadness. Yes, her own mother must have passed away and she was devastated. My tears joined hers. Even now, they slowly trickle down my cheeks.

To this young woman, whom I never saw again, I empathise, I understand, I know how you feel.

For a mother gone leaves a void that no one can ever, ever fill.

Summer days

I just opened all the windows..it is 07.17. Somehow it is not as quiet as last week and the heat hit me as soon as I opened each window. This is a very different scenario from last week..from just 7 days ago. I can already hear quite a few cars on the road. Perhaps some of the drivers could not sleep with the heat so started their usual Sunday slumber by going out of the house. Who would blame them? Temperatures are hovering around 37 degrees this weekend.

Today, I do not appreciate the sun and heat and I put it down to ‘growing older’. As a child, the story was very different. Mum, you took us swimming every day and summer was sweet heaven. We learnt how to swim, jump, dive and made lots of friends, always under your watchful eye. Looking back I realise what alot of energy you had and nothing fazed you. You met your own friends at the club we were members of and your friends were ‘aunties’ to us. We had lots of ‘aunties’! Today children call their elders by their names which is something that strikes a chord. I do not believe that this should be so and that respect towards your elders is appropriate. However, the younger generation scrapped all this and treat everyone the same.

At 4.30pm it was time to shower and dress so we would be waiting on the kerb as Dad drove up to collect us. Coaxing children out of the sea when they are having fun is not an easy task but we always obeyed. You were assertive and strict in a gentle way…most of the time. Your tone of voice was enough to get our attention, but it was never raised. Today I realise how obedient I was….most of the time :).

One summer I broke my elbow. I was six years old and it was a hot August. I had a very traumatic stay in hospital where mum and dad were not allowed to stay with me except for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I cried for 3 long days, afterwhich I would not leave your side. I realise now you must have given up your swimming days because of me.

One thing I do remember clearly, especially as I grew a little older, is the effort you made to keep your weight down. You had the tendancy to put on weight and I remember you ‘always’ on a diet. Of course, this is the predicament of most women I know, except for the lucky ones who are born with genes that keep them so nice and slim. I am my mother’s daughter and have followed your trend. Except for one thing. You took lots of appetite suppressants. I imagine they were silly, simple tablets promising miraculous powers that took away the urge of eating lots of summer delights such as ice cream, cakes, sweets and Maltese bread! I have to say that you loved ice cream and you made lots of it.

I treasure your recipes, which most of the time, remain in the book and not in practice for the simple reason that I will put on more weight if I make them. My husband doesn’t share my sentiment.

Isn’t all this so confusing? What did those pills do in reality? Did they work? I never asked you. In fact, I do not think I ever asked you much and certainly never about the pills. Did I? I have no recollection. Why cannot I remember these details? Why did you have to ‘switch off’ at a point where I could have picked your brain on so many subjects? Did these pills work, Mum? Did they harm you? Why did you resort to pills? You walked so much..you never drove. Advertising certainly works and you read about these ‘miracles’ every day in the pharmacy.

Fast forward to your adult life

It is 7am on a Sunday. I love this time of day on Sunday..the roads are quiet and putting pen to paper is easier ..I can think undisturbed ๐Ÿ™‚ My story continues..enjoy..

‘LIfe was tough for your mother living without a husband and you did all you good to help out, especially since you were the eldest of three siblings. Your mother, my grandmother, realised you were blessed with a good brain and pushed you into university where you qualified as a pharmacist. Not many women obtained degrees in your time so you were one of a few. One of the best things that came out of the university life was meeting your husband, our Dad! You were both in the same medical course and both decided to stop at the Pharmacist level.

Your university lives were happy ones. Yes, of course you had to study, but the social life was also part of it and the photos show the fun and happiness of those years.

I also remember the large bicycles that ‘lived’ in our yard at home. You both used to ride as teenagers and well into your twenties. You must have stopped when Dad bought his first car. Life was simple then. Just take a look at the older photos of Malta. There wasn’t the madness on the roads and in the streets that we have today.

You had three children, the youngest of whom is me, coming after two boys. I remember Dad always discouraging you from cutting my hair and letting it grow so long I could sit on it.

This is one of my fond memories of my young childhood, so much more is just a blur. I say this because the last twelve years of your life hijacked so much of the other pictures, episodes and happiness of my younger days.

Dad had a very good job and life was comfortable. You had bags and shoes to match, which I admired so much. You loved the different colours of costume jewellery, some of which I still have today. They were bright and all shades and shapes. I never stopped admiring them as they sat in mum’s dressing table for many years. I kept a few and they are now part of my grandchildren’s dressing up set, waiting for them to grow a little and enjoy them, as you did Mum.

Dad worked at Bighi and Mtarfa hospitals with the Royal Navy. He loved his job and worked with the English for 20 years. So well respected, I will always remember the smile on his face as he left for work every morning. You were both happy and that part of your lives remains imprinted in my head. Who would ever thought how life would change?’

How does one pay to see the future? If you are one of those, I have to call you crazy ๐Ÿ™‚

I heard it so many times

I will always remember your stories Mum. They were wonderful stories of your early childhood and of the war times. You repeated them so so many times. I did my best to sit and listen. The most prominent one was the time during an air raid in World War 2. You were 14 years old. The siren went and you all went into the shelter. All but your father. He was a tall handsome man who had one wrong thing about him – he never went into war shelters and that day it was the worst mistake of his life. As mum was down in the shelter with her mother and two siblings, a massive bomb came down so close to them. It was absolutely awful and frightening. They all knew that it was very close and that many houses near them would be destroyed.

As soon as the all-clear was given, your mother asked you to run ahead to see what had happened. The sight that stood before you was a shocking nightmare! Your beautiful house had gone down and reduced to rubble..and your father? He was buried under it all.

When they finally found his body, crushed under the stones, he had shrunk in size. You never forgot that scene, did you mum?

I will always have one question in my head that can never be answered. What caused your dementia? Was it the shock of this horrible day? A day that changed the rest of your life?

So many question marks, so many theories…yet never any answers. Are the questions buried with mum? Never. Are the answers buried with mum? Yes, I believe they are.

What’s happening to me?

May/June 2000 – My dad underwent a very serious heart operation, during which he suffered a complication. When he woke up from the anaesthesia he went into a panic saying he was blind and my mum, who was sitting by his side, was devastated. She phoned me immediately crying and saying that dad had gone blind. She was in total shock and stunned…so was I of course. My brothers, both living away, were telephoned. Within a few hours Dad realised he could see but not completely and things settled down a little after the doctors came to check on him. He had actually lost partial eye sight of one eye after suffering a stroke during the operation.

When Dad was discharged from hospital, mum and dad came over to stay with my family and I for his rehabilitation. I lived in Naxxar at the time and he could walk daily without going up and down hills. All worked well and there were no problems. By July they were back home and summer came and went. Life was good – it was normal and normal is good. Until one day in September.

Mum would call me on a daily basis and we would chat about everything over the phone. However, something was off on this particular day. She said something to me and then repeated it a few times. I didn’t really dwell on it …not that day.

However, this sudden repetition began to happen more and more often until one time I spoke to dad about it. He knew what I was talking about but had not mentioned anything about it to anyone – he had just pushed it aside. All this remained on my mind until a few days later.

I remember it clearly. Mum was sitting at the dining room and at one point she went into some kind of trance. This lasted for about 10 minutes and when she came to she burst into tears, turning to my dad ‘Joe, what is happening to me..what??’ She was so scared and we were shocked.

The fear and the look on her face is still very clear in my mind, even today.

My heart sank.

Today I speak to so many people who go through the same situation and I want them to know that they are not alone. The ‘not knowing’ brings with it so much anxiety. We, at MDS, are ready to take your call. We will go through this journey with you.

Anne

She was a pharmacist.

Mum was a pharmacist and very popular with the neighbours and all who knew her. At that time, the mentality was so different and women preferred to talk to a female pharmacist if they had a medical issue. Sometimes the doorbell rang and she would answer it and then spend quite some time talking to this person. In time, I realised what she was doing..always helping whoever she could. She was a very disciplined person with regards to professional secrecy and would never speak about it but I know they were relieved to talk to her. She would also administer injections to a diabetic aunt on a daily basis.

Life wasn’t always easy and my parents had their fair share of troubles – they were also children during world war 2 and used to relate a number of stories, which are forever imprinted in my head. Those stories never stopped as my dad kept them alive till the day he died.

My dad was a very good man, as my mum. They were happily married and were always so good to us. I only remember my dad raising his voice once in my childhood. My mum was strict and always knew what I was up to..did I try lying to her about my teenage adventures? Ha ha..that was useless..if I changed plans during my evening out she would somehow know about this before I returned home ..she had her ‘eyes and ears’ in the town..everyone knew everyone else at that time so doing things you were not supposed to carried a huge risk ๐Ÿ™‚

We had no mobiles and were always home on time..woe betide if you weren’t…yes, it was a good life – we were brought up in a protected sort of way, at least I was, being the youngest…and also a girl!

So what happened along the way? Why did things change?

How on earth could my mother become someone else? Is that how you would describe it?

I’ll tell you about it soon..

Forever yours

Anne

Become a member?

Why should you become a member of the Malta Dementia Society when you can just read the posts on facebook?

Well, for starters, you may miss something important which may or may not have been on Facebook. You will be listed in our database so will receive all our emails.

Also, you can avail yourself of better prices for our one to one support therapy and our physiotherapy.

It is only a small donation, which would really help us too.

So why not apply?

We thank you in advance for your kindness.

All the best for the day

Anne

Here is the application

Why should I join the support group session of ‘Reaching Hands’ online today? Is it worth the effort?

Today we are holding our monthly ‘Reaching Hands’ online support group session.

This is ideal for relatives of people living with dementia and those who attend really feel better as they realise they are not alone in facing life on a daily basis.

It is not easy looking after someone with dementia and you really must talk about it to others.

Our therapists, who lead the session, can really help you deal with the stress, anxiety and sadness that you feel..do not be embarrased or afraid to talk about it..all families face problems and the best thing we can do is talk about them.

When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s many years ago there were no services in Malta or Gozo and my family faced the situation alone. Although there was quite a stigma about mental health, one of the first things we did was inform the neighbours about my mother’s problem. They really appreciated our honesty and offered all the help possible.

I have to say that the neighbours are the first people who will notice if the person living with dementia has gone out of the house alone..and they will also keep an eye out for the person’s safety.

Do not ever be embarrased – if some people pass hurtful comments then they are not worth talking to..

I urge you to attend..you will feel better afterwards – this is a ‘safe space’ and not recorded.

What is said in the session stays in the session.

Go for it!

JAN: REACHING HANDS ONLINE
Wednesday, June 14, 2023 ยท 4:00 โ€“ 5:30pm
Google Meet joining info
Video call link: https://meet.google.com/zdh-cmfe-jbi