We were on a journey, my mum and I.
This is me, Theona, with my beautiful mum. I used to take mum out all the time for a meal, a coffee, shopping, weekend trips, church, to get our hair and nails done, or to visit friends. This photo was the last time I took her out to her best friend's place.
Mum passed away on the 20th May 2018. She lived in her nursing home for 8 years, 3 months and 10 days. We always miss our mums but I started missing mine the moment dementia took hold of her and particularly from the day we tore her away from her home and placed her in care.
I lived 445 kilometres away and the distance made it more difficult to spend time with her, so I gave away my career to care for mum and I will never regret that decision. It gave me four precious years during the darkest times with this horrible disease. For the last six years of her life mum could not walk, talk or do anything for herself. It was tough, especially for her.
We started house-sitting, which was great. Every day I could be with mum - feeding her, taking her for walks in her tub chair, going outside to feel the breeze and sunshine, talking to her and just keeping company, reassuring her that she was not alone. Mum loved sweet treats between meals, especially her favourite of all favourites - caramel tart - and I ensured there were plenty of choccies in her room with the hope that someone would be kind enough to give her one when I was not around.
Most importantly, I was there to support her through this devastating and cruel disease that took her life away piece by piece. It reduced a once vibrant and busy woman to one who so vulnerable and in need of others for everything the rest of us take for granted on a daily basis.
She was scared, confused and frightened. She had lost her speech and I listened carefully to the sounds she made - to hear any precious words that lie within - she had so much to say and I wanted to understand and communicate to give her the respect and dignity that I was listening and reassurance that I cared and loved her. It's hard. It is cruel, and it is so unfair.
Smiles come and go - mornings were the best time before sundowners set in later in the day. When she smiled her whole face lit up and she was so beautiful. I am smiling now as I think of her smiling as I write this. Precious moments that are good for her and everyone around her. Joy and laughter really are the best medicine, even if only for a fleeting moment.
When mum was sleeping, in my capacity as a volunteer, I would catch up with my other resident friends. They all enjoy a chat and love talking about their lives and families. A five minute chat can brighten up someone's day. With the dementia residents, it matters not that they don't remember who you are, or what you have talked about, or that you may repeat it all over again. What matters is that you have spent some quality time with them. You have brought them happiness and taken away their loneliness, even if only for a short brief moment.
Helping the elderly is not always easy and there are so many issues that intertwine and influence what we can do. You must respect the nursing home's regime and work with them. You must allow for the health of the individual and meet them on their terms. You must be strong and prepare yourself for when they die.
What qualifies me to do this? Since mum's diagnosis in 2005 I have been on this dementia journey with her. I promised her that I will use everything I have learned to help others. "Companions" was born and is now growing.
I am a qualified workplace and business coach, trainer, facilitator and photographer. I am combining all of my skills to help the elderly and most importantly, to help fund a cure for dementia.
Please visit our online shop Dementia Demolition Squad where fun and inspiring T-Shirts are available. They are different, funky and make awesome gifts for people of all ages. I have also started a support group, helping people affected by dementia to get together in a social setting. In helping others we help ourselves and we are knitting 1000 scarves and beanies for homeless people in Canberra.
Help us rid the world of dementia. The life you save could be your own.