Life changes

27 Across 11 8 letter word starting with ‘D’ meaning a change in the lives of all connected to a loved one?

Throughout all the highs and lows and challenges of my life I relied on the support of my beautiful mother to help me find the strength to overcome the curved balls.

But what happens when the child needs to step up to become the mother ?

When mum turned 90 in November 2011 everyone lauded her as ‘so good for her age...any age in fact’. She was active in the parish community at Broadmeadow; volunteered at Vinnies Hamilton each Tuesday; was a catechist for many years and above all a most stylish dresser.

But Christmas 2011 she was rushed to hospital with pneumonia and returned home a different person. Her short term memory started to fade; she was disoriented and almost childlike in some of her behaviours.

Mum’s greatest fear was to end her life in a nursing home. She was placed in an orphanage when aged 4 following the death of her mother and subsequently suffered abuse, making the thought of returning to an ‘institution’ unbearable. Her home in Broadmeadow was her fortress.

As a family, our challenge was to keep mum at home. But my family all lived out-of-town and the country. So with the help of my husband Michael we managed to get mum to her appointments, organise her meals and take her on outings. I juggled life to visit mum two or three times a day. This was my ‘new’ mother whom I loved in a different but special way. She was very funny although chastised me on several occasions for not matching her clothes colours –‘ the scarves don’t go with that jumper’ she would scold me! Her conversation was of a headline nature with no depth but she loved me to fill in the detail.

Seven months into my carer’s role, my sister Elizabeth announced that she was going to throw in her job, pack up and move back to care for mum. Elizabeth’s gentle nature mum (I was a little heavy handed!), loving ways, and fashion sense pleased mum although at times she was a hard task master.

When mum’s health started to deteriorate following two short stays in hospital, she knew within herself that even though great care was provided at home, she was in need of ongoing medical care and perhaps a nursing home was to be her fate.

But she didn’t hang round to find out. Following a restless night, to be her last one on earth, mum was crying out for her mother in heaven and  asked if she would bake her a cake- a fruit cake.  Mum closed her eyes for the last time on June 7, 2013.

Amidst all the sadness was so much beauty. I’ve spent the past seven years remembering all the great times we shared and thanking God for giving me such a special mother. I don’t know if my grieving was textbook style but through my running, riding and laughing about special ‘mum moments’, I have placed her in a sacred space in my heart.

My life has been changed forever but mum would want me to carry on as the mad cyclist spreading the good news. She always allowed me to be who I was.

Out of mum’s strong devotion to her faith her once carer and daughter Elizabeth chose a caring pathway and is now a chaplain with the Diocese based at the John Hunter hospital accompanying people as she did with mum.

And the answer to 27 across, 11 down is dementia. The significance of the numbers 27 and 11 is that I was born on mum’s birthday, November 27. This week I will celebrate another birthday without her but one things for sure, there will be a cake cut in heaven and on earth – a fruit cake.

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Helene O'Neill Image
Helene O'Neill

Helene O'Neill is the Parish-Family Liaison Officer for the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.