The Day That Came Too Soon and That Random Thing That Happened.

I stared at the funeral director.

I know you.

I was in a grave yard, on my 32nd birthday, saying one final goodbye to my Grandmother, my soul mate, but…

I know you. How do I know you?

Her lips continued to move and I continued to stare.

If the pimple like mole on her face wasn’t enough to have me convinced, the husky tones in which she clothed her words confirmed it.

I know you!

I turned to my two aunties, both grieving the loss of their Mother, and asked the question. A family friend maybe?

‘No,’ they said. ‘She’s just the funeral director,’ they said.

But I know her.

Obviously the only thing for it was to swallow my pride and ask her.

The name Ashleigh was coming to mind. But how could I remember her name when I hadn’t the foggiest idea where she came from? The more I thought about it, the more ridiculous it all seemed. This was clearly a moment of pure madness. Insanity, driven by mourning and fuelled by the sludge that numbed my mind.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when she looked at me as though I’d just slapped her across the face. But I was.

Oh no. She thinks I’m telling her off.

All I said was, ‘Excuse me, what is your name? Because I think I know you.’

When she said her name was Ashleigh, I didn’t quite know how to react. I think I was hoping that she would say her name was Elizabeth, or Jane or Harold, even. Just so that I didn’t look like the arsehole that had forgotten who she was.

But no.

Ashleigh.

I did know her.

And as it turned out, she knew me too.

I was relieved to find that each of us was as clueless as the other. We knew that we had been acquainted at some point, but we did not know how.

She rattled off some options.

No.

No, that’s not it either.

No, I’ve never been there.

And just as though I had been struck by some kind of blast from the past, it came to me.

‘Car leasing?’ I asked, my face blank with concentration.

‘That’s it,’ she said. ‘I was in sales, you were in customer service.’

And that was it.

I knew her. She knew me.

Not only did I know her, but I remembered her now.

She was nice. She was really, really nice. And, with my family, she had planned every detail of my beautiful old girl’s farewell party.

I knew her and she was good.

I threw my rose into the open grave and whispered, ‘Nan, I love you.’ Then I looked up and thanked whoever it was that had taken Ashleigh from a career in car sales and randomly placed her kind heart in the funeral business.

Because I needed to know that my Nan was looked after right up to the very end.

And indeed, she was.

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The Baby that Beat Dementia

When I arrived at the precipice of adulthood, I made a wish. A simple, love filled wish.

I wished that my beloved grandparents would live to see me become a Mother.

This year, that wish came true. With a twist.

My childhood memories are dotted with happy times spent with my grandparents. Nan singing her bird like songs in the kitchen whilst making scones ‘with love’. Pop sitting in his corner, quietly observing the world and offering up the occasional ‘Dad joke’.

That was them, and they made me feel safe.

When I considered my wish—the wish for my grandparents to meet my first born— I imagined a joy filled pregnancy announcement with even greater joy to follow. And when the time came to announce that our little miracle had come on board, sharing the news with my grandparents was almost as lovely as I dreamed it would be.

Almost. Because, by then, the Dementia had hit.

Shortly after the pregnancy announcement, my lovely, gentle Nan began to fade. It happened slowly. Looking back, I can see that I was in denial. I’d tell her that she was fine. That everyone gets confused sometimes. Hell, at 30, I was sure that I was already experiencing moments of senility. But over time, her mind became so muddled that nothing she said made sense anymore. Dementia; that cruel, poisonous vine.

Throughout my pregnancy, Nan battled on. She knew that I was pregnant, and yet, she didn’t quite understand. One moment, we would be discussing my pregnancy symptoms and the next she would be asking me if I’d put the baby down for a sleep.

See? Cruel.

For me, the 9 months of my pregnancy was long. But for Nan, it was an eternity. She waited and waited for that baby. And then she waited some more. She’d ask when it would be here. ‘Not for another 3 months Nan’, I’d say. She thought I must have kept extending my due date.

My Aunty, who is, very conveniently, an aged care Nurse, suggested that we buy Nan a doll to act as her own baby. Apparently it’s common amongst dementia patients. At first, I thought it was weird. I mean, seriously. The woman has had 8 children, and you want to buy her a doll? Umm…okay. But then I saw her with the doll. How tenderly she cradled it. The way she stroked it gently. The looks she gave it. She loved that baby doll. It was one of her children.

My little boy was born on the 24th of February, 2014— three hours before my 31st birthday. He had a little turned up nose and a head of mousy brown hair. Mummy’s pride and Daddy’s joy. Every bit the miracle that I thought he’d be. My wish had come true. He’d come in time to meet both of his great grandparents.

But, by then, Nan had deteriorated. She didn’t recognise me anymore. She’d smile politely and seemed to know that I was a nice person who deserved to be treated nicely. But she didn’t know who I was. And as many times as I told her that my baby was a boy, she would continue to think that he was a girl. Once, she even called him by the name of her own first born child. A girl.

My Nan was the first person in this world to cradle me in her arms, before even my Mum. Now, she doesn’t even know my name. She doesn’t remember holding my Mums hand at my birth. And she sure doesn’t remember loving me to pieces from the moment I was born.

But there is one shining light here. One piece of hope and joy that I take away from all of this.

Nan—although she believes that he is a girl—adores my baby boy. And he adores her. He is the only thing that makes any sense to her in this muddled up world that she barely tolerates. His joy makes her smile. And I mean, really smile.

She communicates with me and I wonder what on earth she is talking about.  But she communicates with my little boy and suddenly, I understand. Every goo and every gah. Every coochi coochi coo. In these moments, I see my beautiful Nan again. I see her spirit and forget all about this thing called Dementia. Motherhood is that strong. It cannot be forgotten. Even in the face of such a vial, hideous disease.

So, Dementia, you cruel and heartless beast. You listen to me, and you listen carefully.

You may have the ability to take a person’s mind, but you will never take their spirit.

That much I know. And that much I am grateful for.

Dementia

Love Conquers All. Blogtober 27th.

My Grandmother—my kind, gentle Grandmother—has Dementia. There’s nothing smile worthy about that. It’s awful. It’s cruel and it’s quick.

Although she is physically still here, I have lost such a large part of my precious Nan. I have lost the shine in her eyes as she recounts the moment of my birth. I have lost the songs that she used to sing in the kitchen. I have lost my biggest fan.

And it cuts deeper than I care to admit.

But then there was today when I smiled my most glorious smile.

I asked my Grandfather how he was feeling about it all and, as usual, he lamented the facts. The love of his life was missing most of the time. Tragic. Unfair. Confusing.

I asked him if he needed some time away. I told him he should take some time away.

‘I won’t leave your Grandmother,’ he said, firmly. ‘I can’t leave her.’

I looked down at my joyous baby boy who played on his colourful mat, oblivious to the pain.

I can’t believe this.

Is it really possible for the human spirit to shine through this awful disease?

Is love really that strong?

Yes.

It turns out, love really is that strong.

And don’t you ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

If they do, you tell them this story.

Tell them about the smile you once heard of.

Tell them about that sweet old man who refused to leave the woman he loved, even for an hour, because he loved her.

Love really is that beautiful.

It really, really is.

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