We promised to let you in on what led up to our parents living separately and how Dementia took over our lives. Today it feels like it’s time to fill you in on how it all began.
To give you some background: Dad has always been easy going, extremely hard-working and devoted to Mum. He worked full-time until the age of sixty-five but on top of his paid employment he had always been a bit of an odd-job man around the estate where we lived – he’s an electrician so was often called upon to help neighbours with electrical jobs and he loved gardening so was often seen helping with other people’s gardens as well as tending his own quarter of an acre. Even though retired he was still as active as ever right up to the age of eighty.
Mum on the other hand, as was normal in those days, hadn’t worked full time since my sister was born when Mum was age 20. During our childhood she had a few different part-time jobs, kitchen assistant at the local school, strawberry picking in the summer, home help, etc. but never anything permanent or full-time. She was however a great housewife, loved to cook, make her own jams and chutneys, bake her own bread and cakes and she was a talented seamstress making all her own clothes.
It seemed to us as we were growing up that Mum was never really happy, she missed her home city of London, she was anxious, lacking in confidence and never really enjoyed life; she was always looking for something outside of herself to make her happy.
During our teenage years and into our 20’s, Mum suffered from quite severe mental health problems which meant she was unavailable as a mother for long periods of time. However, by the time she reached her mid 50’s she had weaned herself off all her medication, got some counselling, learnt to drive, started Yoga classes and generally gained in confidence. I admired her for having the courage to make those changes.
All seemed pretty much normal with Mum and Dad up until the year 2011 when we saw the first signs that something wasn’t quite right. Firstly, Dad began complaining that his memory wasn’t so good. At first we just put it down to old age but then he had a couple of falls so the doctor referred him to the Older People’s Mental Health (OPMH) team. They carried out some tests and diagnosed him with mixed dementia during the latter part of 2011.
Around the same time Mum reported that Dad had, on several occasions, cried out in the night for help. At this point they had separate bedrooms which were at opposite ends of their home. Naturally our first question was “Why was Dad calling out for help?” Her answer was that she didn’t know because she never got up to find out! It had frightened her to hear him calling out so she began blocking her bedroom door with a rolled up towel!
Some time passed until she told us that Dad had begun getting up at night and wandering around the house. She said that he would push open her door and come to stand at the end of her bed. She was even more frightened by this and so she would pretend to be asleep.
Following that, just before Christmas, she said that Dad had twice pushed open her bedroom door a little, poked a long stick through the gap and hit her with it. This, she said, had not caused her any physical harm as no force could be exerted through the partly open door but it had frightened her considerably.
She began blocking her door with a bedside table so that he couldn’t gain entry. At this point I phoned my Dad’s GP for advice, not really knowing what to make of the story. Unfortunately the GP had already left for his Christmas holiday.
2011 had been a very busy year for me. I work for a small company but 2011 had seen considerable growth and my focus during that time had been almost 100% on my job. Little did I know how that was about to change.
Over the Christmas period my partner was away with his family but I had elected to stay at home and catch up with some work until he returned. By the evening of the 28th December he was home, I was exhausted but greatly relieved that my work was done. As I settled down to sleep that night the thought of our quality time together until I had to return to work on the 2nd of January was one of blissful relief.
Oh, how wrong can you be! At 5.45am on Thursday 29th I received a phone call to say that Mum had suffered a heart attack and had been rushed to hospital by ambulance.
When I arrived at the hospital, a two hour drive away, Mum almost immediately told me that the reason she had suffered the heart attack was that someone had been standing at the end of her bed shaking her duvet. Then they had jumped out of the bedroom window and ran away. She said that Dad had employed them to frighten her and it had brought on her heart attack!
In that moment I knew she had imagined that event and probably everything else she had told us about Dad’s night-time wanderings. But little did I know, from that day on my parents would never again be able to fully manage their own lives without our help and that we would have to learn how to laugh at what could otherwise be viewed as tragedy.
What happened next began the drama which is now our day to day lives.
Part II coming soon…