A few months ago my mother-in-law Jean moved into a Sydney nursing home. She had previously been in residential care for eighteen months after dementia and failing physical health meant  she could  no longer remain in her own home.

My husband and I live two hours away in the Blue Mountains. For quite a while we have been  spending   a couple of days a week in Sydney to visit Jeannie.

Soon after the move to the nursing home we met a  sweet  faced resident called Joan, sitting beside Jean in the day room.


She was beautifully dressed and coiffured.  Look closely in the above photo and you can see that her nail polish matches her lipstick, and her pink cardigan.  She was so warm and friendly that I felt an immediate connection to her.  I would often take my computer in to show Jeannie pictures of birds and flowers in my garden and  Joan was always very interested too.  Both Joan and Jeannie have  severe short and long term  memory loss.  “How old is your mother” Joan would ask every five minutes.  They are both in their nineties.

“Jeannie is such a lovely person,” Joan said on one occasion.  My heart filled with gratitude that such a delightful soul had ‘befriended’  my mother-in-law. I use inverted commas  because  Jeannie was  already beyond  meaningful engagement.

When we arrived home in the Mountains a few weeks ago  there was a telephone message from the daughter of one of Jeannie’s oldest friends. She said her mother  had been  in a  Sydney nursing home  for some time, and did Jean happen to be there now too?

Oh my God! The penny dropped. How could we not have recognized dear  Joan?   Well, we sort of did.  When we first met her, both Rob and I remarked how much like Jeannie’s old friend she looked. However, when we asked where she had lived before etc.,  the answers didn’t seem to match. We put it down to weird coincidence that her name was Joan. Also, despite what we felt was our good understanding of dementia, we just  could not conceive of a 70 year old friendship vanishing so completely.

The pair  had first met as young married women. Joan’s husband  Bill  and my late father-in-law Alan were in the Air Force together in WWII.  As widows, the friends reconnected  in the 1970s, when Jeannie returned to Sydney after  living in Tasmania for twenty years.   They travelled interstate and  to Europe together, and  regularly met for lunch. After Rob and I moved to the Blue Mountains 15 years ago we didn’t see Joan, and only heard of her doings via Jeannie.


At The Pinnacles in Western Australia. From left, Joan’s sister, a Sydney friend, Joan and Jeannie.















It was thanks to Joan’s advice that Jeannie applied for and received a  Veterans Affairs Pension, which has been so beneficial in her care. The  services provided to her as a Gold  Card holder meant  she  was able to remain  independent for an extended period.


The sad thing is that neither of them have the slightest  memory of their deep and long-standing friendship. Recently Rob and I had a lovely catch-up with another of Joan’s daughters and  her son-in-law. Our mothers sat with us; contented and smiling, but neither   able to participate. It is heartbreaking that dementia steals so much.

We all hunted  for more photographs of them together in the hope of sparking some memories, but  it’s not going to happen. Jeannie is in her final days now.

Life is  truly strange, isn’t it?

Here is a story I wrote about Jean much earlier, as she was about to leave her home. It’s hard for me to read it, because never did anyone battle so hard to stave off mental decline.

UPDATE – Jeannie died peacefully in May, 2017.



  1. Oh goodness, this saga really tore at my heartstrings even though I don’t know any of the people concerned. Perhaps at a deeper level they know of their connection (something the rest of us in the ‘everyday’ world are not cognisant of).

    • Pauline

      Well, we can only hope so, Christine. Jeannie has deteriorated very rapidly over the last week or so.

  2. Very moving. Stranger than fiction in a way. I shared it.

    • Pauline

      Thanks so much for leaving a comment. It’s hard to explain the sheer horror of dementia.

  3. My thoughts are with you. Having gone through almost exactly the same situation 2 years ago. It is devastating how dementia steals the memories as in the end those are the things that are important to us all>
    We were lucky in that mum in law’s memories of being a young woman stayed with her. she was very content as nobody in her present world had passed away. She was often ‘visited’ by or ‘met when shopping’ family and friends she had known 60 years ago.
    Jeanie comes across as content and relaxed and that is a wonderful gift you have given her for her time left.
    Keeping you all in my thoughts and prayers.

    • Pauline

      Thanks Carol. Yes, your MIL was very lucky. Jeannie is being cared for really well by the staff and her doctor. She is in her final days now, and very peaceful.

  4. Perhaps they did reconnect on a level that only they knew and understood x

    • Pauline

      I do hope so, Chrissie. Thanks for taking the trouble to leave a message.

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