DEMENTIA; THE SILENT THIEF
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.
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.
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