Letting Go


It’s been five years since Mum moved to the rest home. Slowly but surely, things are slipping away.

The weekend before last we had some big celebrations—Mum's 86th birthday and a family 21st. There was much excitement; people arriving from up north and "across the ditch" (Australia). Mum was excited and nervous in equal proportion. She had great anticipation about seeing everyone and huge trepidation about whether she could cope.

The first event, Mum’s birthday, went swimmingly. The celebration was small, the people and surroundings were familiar. Mum was at her sparky best. She had long chats with people she rarely sees, got back-to-back with the grandchildren to compare heights (Mum’s not getting any taller), and had some smart repartee with her son-in-law.

“I think I’m slightly inebriated,” she announced happily, about half way through. She lasted ‘til ten and then announced it was time for bed.

The 21st birthday celebration, held the following night, was much harder. Despite the constant attention of family and friends, Mum was tired and confused much of the time. Halfway through, I asked her how it was going.

“I’m not terribly impressed,” she said, surveying the crowded room. “It’s not really up to much, is it?” I’m pretty sure she had no idea what event she was at or why she was there.

I think it is time for us to let some things go. We ditched school awards and prizegivings and kid’s musical performances a while ago. These days, large gatherings really don't work.

But on a happier note, Mum and I have found something that makes her life a little better: a combination diary/journal.

For several years Mum has had two books. One is a diary, which tells her what’s coming up (appointments, events, visits, etc.), and the other is a journal, which reminds her about what has happened already. The two books caused her endless confusion. Mum would check the diary, see all the past appointments and be unable to remember anything about them. She felt like she was constantly being stood up. Then she would look at the journal, see that people had visited in the past but find nothing to look forward to. She felt her life was empty.

I looked everywhere for a solution. All I wanted was a week-at-a-glance diary with space for free text alongside. Nothing. So I made my own version using an A4 journal, gluing on a floral print to the outside, and adding a weekly calendar at the bottom of each page.

Mum loves it. The past and the future are now located all in one place. The journal part at the top of the page reminds her about what’s happened recently, and the calendar at the bottom tells her what’s coming up.

Pam, the administrator extraordinaire at Mum’s rest home, copies the week’s activities into Mum’s book for her.

I think I might jazz it up a bit, too, by pasting in a few photos from Mum’s birthday. Maybe I’ll add some from the 21st too.

Sarah Jane is a freelance writer/researcher and part-time caregiver for her mother Eleanor* who has dementia and lives at a rest home nearby. Sarah and her mother spend Saturdays enjoying each other’s company, pottering about and having the occasional adventure. Sarah lives in New Zealand where she writes and speaks about dementia-related issues.

Visit Saturdays with Mum

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JaneCo. I am truly sorry for your loss and you have to know you did a great service to your Mom for the last six years. Even if she could not express it I am sure she was much appreciative of all you did. As for her passing while you were sleeping, you may want to look at it a different way. Your Mother may have wanted to spare you from seeing her pass and waited until you were at last resting and not "fussing" over her. Just relish the joy you had with her and I am positive she felt very much loved when she passed and that is a great testament to you. Again I am very sorry for your loss
After 6 years of hallucinations, confusion, memory loss and suffering my mom finally succumbed to dementia on September 2, 2016. I took care of my mom in our home the whole time and when Hospice asked if I wanted to take on that responsibility I was honored to do so. My only regret is that in her final hours my fatigue took over and she passed in the early morning hours alone in her hospital bed while we slept in the room next door. How can it be that all that time and effort I put in to keep her going just to miss being with her in her final moments. I will never get over that.
JaneCo She knew